The type of yeast used to ferment alcoholic beverages is a one-celled fungus commonly known as brewer's yeast. The scientific name is Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and it's the same yeast that is used to make bread rise.
It's important to note that most literature about yeast allergies is referring to an entirely different organism (Candida albicans) which some alternative health practitioners have speculated can cause everything from chronic fatigue to depression. While mainstream practitioners agree that Candida albicans can cause acute infections like thrush, most reject the theory that chronic candidiasis is responsible for widespread health problems in much of the population.
Allergies to Saccharomyces cerevisiae, on the other hand, have been well-documented in medical literature and are most likely to occur in people who have mold allergies. Brewer's yeast is used in all fermented alcoholic beverages - beer, wine, hard cider, sake, kvass, and other similar beverages - and individuals with yeast allergies should avoid them.
There has been very little research done on yeast allergies and distilled spirits. If you are allergic to yeast and would like to make these beverages part of your diet, you should discuss further allergy testing with your allergist.
Grape allergies are rare, but they have been identified in medical literature. In addition to wine, individuals with grape allergies will need to avoid armagnac, cognac, ouzo, vermouth, port, champagne, most wine coolers, and packaged martini mixes. Some nice alternatives to wine and grape-based spirits include Japanese plum wine, which has a sweet taste somewhat like Moscato, and Calvados (apple brandy).
Corn Allergies and Intolerances
To date, the question of whether distilled alcohol made from corn is safe for people with corn allergies (as other distilled grain alcohols appear to be for people with other grain allergies) has received very little attention in peer-reviewed medical literature.
A 1999 case study on a patient who had demonstrated corn allergies and anaphylaxis triggered by beer appeared to show that corn-derived distilled alcohol was safe for patients with corn allergies, and this study was cited by the European Food Safety Authority in their position paper stating that distilled alcohol derived from corn was probably safe for patients with corn allergies, especially since scientists could not demonstrate the presence of proteins (the portion of corn that triggers allergic reactions) after the distillation process.
But given that the clinical evidence on corn and distilled alcohol is so scant, you may wish to consult your allergist before adding corn-derived distilled alcohol to your diet. Bourbon is always distilled from corn; other distilled spirits that may be distilled from corn include whiskey, gin, moonshine and, rarely, vodka.
People with corn allergies or intolerances should avoid fermented alcohols that are derived from corn. While some beers are safe - using non-corn cereal grains, water, yeast, and hops - many are not, and currently, U.S. manufacturers are not required to list ingredients on malt beverages (although some do). Wine is safe for corn allergies and intolerances, but Spanish chicha is another fermented corn-based beverage.
One other potential area of concern may be flavorings added to liqueurs or brandies; if full lists of ingredients are unavailable, check manufacturer websites or call customer service before drinking.
Figueredo, Elena, et al. "Beer Induced Anaphylaxis: Identification of Allergens." Allergy. June 1999 54(6): 630-34. 13 June 2007.
Gupta, Rita. "The Buzz About Wine and Beer Allergy" Allergy & Asthma Advocate Winter 2006. 4 June 2007.
Maintz, Laura and Natalija Novak. "Histamine and Histamine Intolerance." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. May 2007, 85(5): 1185-96. 4 June 2007.
Airola, K., et al. "Clustered Sensitivity to Fungi: Anaphylactic Reactions Caused by Ingestive Allergy to Yeasts." Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Sep. 2006, 97(3): 294-7.
Schad, Susanne G. et al. "Wine Anaphylaxis in a German Patient: IgE-Mediated Allergy Against a Lipid Transfer Protein of Grapes." International Archives of Allergy and Immunology. Feb. 2005 136(2); 159-64.