Wait, Beer & Wine Aren’t Vegan?

Let it be known: my best kind of travelling usually involves sitting in a courtyard, roof terrace, pavement cafe, beach bar etc., supping on a delicious alcoholic beverage and chilling the france out. When on holiday, my favourite part of the day is a little after 5pm, as the hustle and bustle starts to die down and people start to gather at local bars and pubs for a gentle relaxant at the end of a busy day. However, easier said then done for the conscientious vegan traveller, as lots of beers, wines and spirits contain animal-derived ingredients. Stupid, huh?

Why Isn’t Some Beer & Wine Vegan?

To be honest, I have no idea, because it seems like a pretty stupid idea to add animal products to delicious beer and wine. Some animal products in alcohol are pretty easily identifiable (step forward milk stout) however the majority of these nasty ingredients are pretty sneaky and tend to hide themselves a little too well.

More and more beverages, particularly beers, are being brewed with honey as a natural alternative to sugar, and while the brewery will more often than not be pretty obvious about the addition of honey, it’s not a guarantee that the absence of the word “honey” in the name means it’s honey-free. As such, it’s worth being a little wary of high alcohol beers from craft breweries.

The increasing popularity of sour beers including gose is also something to be careful of as some producers use milk-derived lactose to get a funky sour flavour. In my experience this tends to be more common in kettle sours which rely less on naturally occurring bacteria and yeasts to get distinctive flavours.

The biggie that gets touted around a lot, and is probably the most difficult to identify, is the use of animal-derived products such as isinglass (fish swim bladders), casein (milk protein) and gelatine to filter or fine the beverage (yuk). Essentially, this process is a way to clarify the liquid to improve its colour and clarity and reduce sediment. This one’s a big deal for wine-lovers as there is often very little information available about how these products are used.

It’s also worth noting that due to the use of these products being a process rather than an additive, it’s highly unlikely that any will end up in the finished product. However, for many vegans, knowing that animal-derived ingredients were used in the production of a drink is enough to turn them right off.

How to Find Vegan Beer & Wine

Some producers will clearly mark their products as vegan or not, but particularly when travelling and you don’t have a health food shop nearby, or when dealing with small producers, vegan labelling on alcoholic beverages is pretty much non existent. You also want to be able to go to the local pub, enjoy local drinking culture, and not limit your experience to scouring the shelves of supermarkets and health food shops finding the cheapest bottle of vegan brew, right?

As with any food and drink, the key is to doing your research. I use Barnivore as well as Untappd and the Veggiebeers apps on the regular, and between them there’s a startling amount of easily accessible information about whether drinks are vegan. A definitive “yes this is vegan” or “no this isn’t vegan” direct from the producer is absolutely the best approach, but in a bind, there are some pretty good reliable rules you can follow.

The Rules: Beer

If Barnivore/untappd/veggiebeers isn’t being helpful, there are some pretty good ways to quickly and easily identify whether a beer is vegan friendly:

  • Avoid anything with “milk” or “honey” in the name (obvz).
  • If in doubt, drink German. German-produced beer is governed by a strict purity law called “Reinheitsgebot” which limits the ingredients used in beer to grain, hops, yeast and water only. Yup, no honey, no milk, no fish swim bladders.
  • Any unfiltered or bottle-conditioned beer will be vegan, as it hasn’t been subjected to the fining process that can use animal-products. Some beers will be labelled as such, or you can simply check for sediment in the bottom of the bottle. Obviously, honey or milk additives are still a risk here.
  • Organic beers are less likely to use animal-derived finings due to the certification standards. However this isn’t an iron-clad guarantee.

*EDIT* Since posting the blog Oliver from forkandcarrot has been in touch to let me know that not some bottle conditioned beers are fined before being rebottled with a bit of extra yeast added. It’s rare, but This means not all are vegan. Cheeky!

The Rules: Wine

As a wine lover, I’m really sad to say it, but finding vegan wine is a little trickier than beer. Thankfully, if you go to a good wine bar or vintner the staff on hand should have a really good knowledge of what’s on sale so if in doubt, ask. It’s also pretty unheard of for wine to have milk or honey added to wine, so that one’s easily covered.

  • Unfiltered is best. As with beer, unfiltered wine won’t have been subjected to the fining process so is pretty much guaranteed to be vegan friendly. Unfiltered wine is usually labelled, but if not, then cloudy wines are an obvious bet.
  • Bottle-fining is the wine equivalent of bottle-fermented beer, which means that bottles are left to sit for a period of time for the sediment to settle. Again, no animal products required as there’s no fining process. This process requires time, so only really applies to vintages that are 2+ years old. You’ll spot this by holding a bottle up to the light and checking for sediment at the bottom.
  • Go for quality. This one’s pretty easy because I like good wine. Wine that’s been aged (either in bottles or in barrels) is much more likely to self-fine and producers are more reluctant to use additives in their wine. As an example, when we visited Montalcino in Tuscany, we tried a lot of Brunello di Montalcino which by law must sit in barrels for at least 3 years and aged in total for 5 years before going to market. All of it was bottle-fined and therefore unfiltered.

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