Is Beer Vegan? (And Why Wouldn’t It Be?)Sarah Hornik
“Ah, good ol’ trustworthy beer. My love for you will never die.” These famous words were uttered by Homer Simpson, and on some days, we can all totally relate.
Whether with your friends at the pub, or at home in front of the TV, with a slice of vegan pizza or with a big bowl of popcorn – as a vegan, you can still enjoy a cold brewsky. If your beer is indeed vegan, that is.
Wait a minute… isn’t ALL beer vegan?
Beer is typically made of a few basic ingredients: water, a starch source (usually malted barley), brewer’s yeast and flavorings. So far, so good. However, while quite rare, specific types of beer, such as milk stouts, contain lactose, and others may contain honey. Fortunately, these are easily spotted in the ingredient list.
So, what else should I look out for to make sure my beer is vegan?
The more common problem with beer is the use of isinglass, a gelatinous substance obtained from the dried swim bladders of fish.
Eww! There are fish bladders in my beer?
Not exactly. Isinglass is an agent that is often used in the brewing process. It latches on to impurities in the drink, making them bind together so that they are big enough not to go through the filtration process, leaving the drink less cloudy and and making it more bright and clean. Isinglass is not included in the end product. For this reason, it usually doesn’t show up on ingredient lists, making it hard to tell if your beer is vegan or not. Sadly, sometimes our good ol’ trustworthy beer is not as trustworthy as it seems.
If the beer contains no animal ingredients then it’s vegan, isn’t it?
This is actually quite a hot topic among vegans. The bottom line is that it depends on whether or not you choose to take the processing of a product into your considerations. Some vegans, having made the decision not to consume animal products, choose not to check the processing of food and beverages, but only the final ingredient list. Other vegans aspire to check all aspects of the production process and will only drink beers that have been certified as vegan – ensuring no animal-derived products were involved in production.
Whichever group you belong to, the good news is that our world is gradually changing, and many beer manufacturers, both big and small, are shifting towards vegan-friendly clarifying agents, such as seaweed or artificial finings. For instance, Guinness has been changing things up at its breweries and has recently eliminated isinglass from the brewing process of its draught beer, announcing that bottles and cans will be fish-bladder-free as well by the end of 2017.
As scientific research has consistently shown, fish are sentient beings who feel pain, communicate with each other and even have complex emotional lives. We’re hoping to see more and more breweries following the footsteps of the Irish beer giant.
How can I tell if my favorite brew is vegan or not?
Unlike most food products where you can just check the label, alcoholic beverages can be tricky as manufacturers are not required to list their filtration agents. But as always, the internet is your friend and Barnivore is an excellent website to get to know. When in doubt, just type the name of your beverage of choice in the search engine, and you can easily find out if it’s vegan or not. There are also free apps for your smartphone, such as VeggieBeers (available for Android and iPhone), so you can even check while you’re sitting at the bar munching on some peanuts.
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