“What is this?” I questioned as I was handed a cup of liquid. It was my first year living in Italy and I was with a group of Italian friends one evening in late spring. One of them had just gone into the bar to get a bottle of wine and cups to bring outside. We stood in a small circle, bunched together because of the crowds of people that evening sharing our space on the narrow cobbled street in the oldest part of Trieste. I looked into the glass and could smell strawberry. “Allie, it should be ok. It’s a strawberry wine called fragolino,” my friend said who was holding the bottle. They all knew about my food allergies. I looked at the bottle. Of course there were no ingredients. There never were. “I think I’ll wait and look it up when I get home,” I said.
Drinking with food allergies is complicated wherever you live. Back before I had a smart phone in Italy (they were super expensive at the time and I didn’t know I would live there for so many years), I would have to go home and research new drinks if I could even find them online. With alcohol, research is not even always possible. I knew that fragolino sounded close to fragelico, which is a hazelnut liquor (and I recognized the root from fragola, which is strawberry in Italian). How did I know the wine was just a grape that had hints of strawberry? I just knew I shouldn’t do it. I knew it wasn’t worth the risk. These are the decisions you have to make when drinking with food allergies. They are not easy, but they are real.
When I turned 21, I was living abroad in Australia. It wasn’t as exciting as it would have been in the U.S., since the drinking age there is 18. My American roommates were excited for me (especially since they knew it would make the bar scene much easier when I returned back to the U.S. for my last semester of college). My Australian friends shrugged about the number, but were always happy to celebrate! Since living in Australia, wine was my “go-to” and years later when I moved to Italy, wine truly became my drink of choice.
I believe that simplicity is the best option. Just like with food, I keep it simple when it comes to drinking.
Please note: When considering my answers below, remember this is after years of comfort and judging how I feel in these situations. I wish I could give you more concrete answers. The Allergic Living articles can at least give you the medical perspective, which I can not. I am not a doctor. I am an expert on living my life with life-threatening food allergies. However, the food allergies I know best are my own, including four of the top eight (fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts) plus many more. Just because something works for me, doesn’t mean it will feel safe for you. My best recommendation overall is learning to trust yourself and how you feel. Sometimes anxiety creeps in that is irrational, but sometimes it is there to keep you safe. Learning to know the difference takes time and practice and isn’t always successful, but for me it has been more often than not, by far.
Here are some great questions that you asked that I will try to address the best that I can.
Q: Have you ever had a reaction while consuming alcohol?
A: No, thankfully. Read this article to know the risks.
Q: In Allergic Living it says wines can be refined with different foods. What do you say about that?
A: I say always trust the experts! This is just me sharing my personal experience. However, in this article it also says that the chances of reacting are basically nonexistent. Here is another article from AAAAI with other drinking tips.
Q: Do you drink wine safely?
A: Yes, I do drink wine safely. I have my “go to” wines, however I also try plenty of other wines from all over the world. I have never had an issue with wine alone. I do avoid wine that has other alcohol or mixes in it.
Some of my favorite “go to” wines include:
- White Wine: Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand is usually delicious
- Red Wine: Malbec from Argentina I really enjoy
- Rose: I choose ones from Provence, France
I know I did not include brands. I don’t always choose the same ones but I do usually stick with the same regions of the world that are known for those grapes :)
Q: Are beers and liquors safe for nut allergies or do many have nut flavors or additives?
A: It totally depends. There is no straight-forward answer. I remember I went through a significant amount of effort to figure out the ingredients in a brand of pumpkin beer the year I came home from Italy. It wasn’t something we had over there and I really wanted to try it. I couldn’t figure out the ingredients though initially and it was challenging and quite a bit frustrating. When you are out with friends, the last thing you want to do is try calling a company (that likely isn’t open) to ask questions about ingredients. I didn’t end up trying the pumpkin beer that night. I waited to call the company. Some companies will answer questions in the FAQ section of websites now which is helpful. I now check there first.
I am cautious with beer. I have my “go to” beers and don’t deviate from them very often. I choose name brands (like Stella and Heineken which can be found in most bars) and other ones I’ve already tried at home. I also don’t usually order beer on tap unless I am at a brewery that can answer all of my questions and does not have nut brews. With so many up-and-coming smaller craft breweries, I have found it to be more and more difficult. This is why I tend to opt for a glass of wine.
*Note: Cider has become more popular in the U.S. (the UK was ahead of us in this area). Some ciders will have ingredients on the can. Cider with ingredients may be an option to look into.
Liquor & Mixed Drinks
Liquors are complicated. Honestly, I rarely order mixed drinks. There are so many considerations and I find it isn’t usually worth the risk. The times when I do feel comfortable are when I am at a bar that I know and trust. This is why it is nice to form relationships with people. They will then “get it” when you ask a million questions like, “is it a clean mixer?” or “what are the other ingredients?” I pick and choose very carefully. There are also some liquors that are completely off-limits. For example, both rum and gin I know can have nut ingredients that I need to avoid. Amaretto and Frangelico are just a few to also avoid with nut allergies. Read this post by my friend Kortney for others.
Q: How do you handle ordering drinks at a bar? (Asking to wash hands, etc.)
A: It depends on what I am ordering. I am a pretty straight-forward order for the most part because I enjoy wine. However, there are some places where wine is not their specialty, but a margarita is, for example, and that is pretty much the only time I ever order mixed drinks.
I won’t order from just anywhere though. I will ask them to make sure they use a clean mixer, clean rim salt, etc. after I ask them to list all of the ingredients in their margarita (every bar is different). This is why sometimes a glass of wine is just easier!
Note: I don’t let anyone else get my drink/order for me unless I’m with a group of friends and we are all drinking wine.
For me, wine is the easiest and mixed drinks are the most complicated. All alcoholic drinks should be chosen carefully. Very few have ingredients (although I’ve noticed some cans are now listing ingredients- so thank you to those companies. I appreciate you).
Top Tips in Short:
- Find some “go to” drink choices
- Always trust your gut
- Avoid sharing drinks
- Avoid drinking in excess
- Don’t fall for drinking peer pressure
- Advocate for your safety
- Also, drinking is not a necessity- not everyone has to drink (I know plenty of people who don’t and still enjoy being out with their friends- be you and own your choices)
I hope this post was helpful! Share questions and comments below.