Beer: What Makes it Vegan, or Not

la vegan beer fest 2011
la vegan beer fest 2011 by veganbakesale on flickr

You know, the more research I do regarding all things vegan, the more surprised I am at how many animal ingredients pop up in the least likely of places.

Take beer, for example.

This past weekend, a group of us got together to celebrate the festive season. As this is the time of year when most people indulge a little to celebrate, there was an assortment of craft beers for people to taste, and it got me wondering…  We make a point of ensuring adherence to dietary restrictions and choices for our guests via the foods we prepare (or buy) and serve, but aside from the glaringly obvious alcoholic beverages like cream liqueurs, have most of us paused to consider what might be in the drinks we see regularly? Are many of our favourites as vegan-friendly as we thought they were?

Let’s focus on beer today.

When I think of beer, I think “hops! barley! yeast! wheat! maybe some fruit!”, but it has never occurred to me that there might be things like fish parts or cow hooves in the bottled offerings around me. After checking out the Barnivore website—a great resource for vegan beer, wine, and liquor—I am significantly more well-informed than I was a few hours ago.

Have you heard of isinglass before? I hadn’t until now: it’s harvested from the swim-bladders of fish (generally sturgeon) that have been harvested for food. It’s more common in European beers than North American ones (like Guinness), and it’s used to stabilize the beer’s head (foam) and clarify the liquid. It seems that the collagen within the isinglass is what helps to clarify the beer, and another source of this collagen is gelatin from the hooves, hides and bones of farm animals. Egg whites and sea shells are also used by some to assist in the filtration and clarification process.

Some beer is also then filtered through bone char (yes, just what it sounds like: burnt bones) to remove impurities and any left over floaty bits.

Have you ever seen these ingredients on a beer label?  I haven’t. I think I’d remember them if I had!

I went to the websites of a few world-recognised beers and nowhere in their ingredients list does it say anything about using hooves or fish offal to brew their wares.

Beer photo for menu
By D.A.K. Photography on Flickr

Some beer manufacturers, like Heineken, have brewing methods that involve no animal ingredients or by-products, and as such are fully vegan. Other popular brands like Corona, Beck’s, and the Anheuser-Busch beers (like Stella Artois and Budweiser), are all vegan as well. For a fully comprehensive list of all the vegan beers available to you, you can go to the Barnivore beer list, which goes into detail about pretty much every beer available worldwide, citing references from representatives of the companies themselves that verify the vegan-ness (veganicity?) of their various products.  How awesome is that? I really like the idea of introducing vegan beers to friends and family who may not already be on the cruelty-free bandwagon, in a way that’s absolutely not pushy at all— just having really great beer with people we care about, and happening to mention at some point that the beer is vegan too.  *grin*

Here’s a toast: to glasses of golden goodness brewed by master craftspeople, with no injury to our animal friends. May your holidays be full of brightness and peace.


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