Attempting to determine if the beer you are ordering is vegan friendly can be a challenging prospect at times, the following are some suggestions to help you identify which beer is vegan and which is not…
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Is Beer Vegan?
When it comes to the question of “is beer vegan”, the answer is not as straightforward as one might hope it was, this is because some beer is vegan and others are not. It all comes down to the ingredients used in the making of each individual beer.
Generally speaking, most beers are in fact vegan; however, some beers do contain animal products. For example, some are made with honey or milk-based products added to their recipe for flavor; while others use animal products such as gelatin and isinglass (a fish-based substance) during the filtering, clarifying, and clearing process.
Can Vegans Drink Beer?
Yes vegans can drink beer, but as discussed it’s important to know that not all beers are vegan, so you will need to be selective in choosing which beer you drink.
The majority of beer is made using only four main ingredients, grains (barley, wheat, corn, and rice) as well as hops, yeast, and water, all of which are vegan-friendly. If that is all the beer you are about to drink is made from you are ok, however, the problem arises when adjuncts are added to the beer to add additional flavor, carbonation, mouthfeel, head retention and to filter and clear the beer. This is where a vegan needs to be careful, as some of these adjuncts are derived from animals such as fish bladders, eggs, milk, and honey.
Fortunately, nowadays there are many vegan-friendly beer options available on the market, and the majority of these beers will either label themselves as vegan-friendly or list their ingredients so you can do your own research.
Why is Not All Beer Vegan?
If beer were brewed as it traditionally was with just the 4 main ingredients of grains, hops, yeast, and water all beer would be vegan, however, as we have discussed that is no longer the case, and not all beer is considered to be vegan simply because it can contain animal products or by-products.
With some beer, additives such as clarifying agents and stabilizers that are derived from animals are added during production to include isinglass (fish bladders), albumin (egg whites), and gelatin (animal collagen).
Some beers on the market are also processed using animal products like honey, glycerin, animal-based lactose, or cheese to improve their flavor and mouthfeel.
How to Tell if a Beer is Vegan-Friendly?
One of the best ways to determine if a beer is suitable for vegans is to look at the label. Many brands will clearly mark on their labels if they are vegan and/or made with animal-free ingredients.
When a beer does not mark on the label that it is vegan or is made with animal-free ingredients you need to be careful because in many places a beer company is not legally required to list all of its ingredients on the label. In many cases they will only list the four main ingredients (grains, hops, yeast, and water); when in fact there can be more ingredients that are non-vegan that go into its manufacturing. With those beers, you will need to read beyond the label and look into the production process itself.
Most beer companies’ websites will go into further details on the manufacturing of their beer and its ingredients, so that is a good place to start. You can also reach out directly to breweries or their beer reps with any questions or concerns that you may have regarding the ingredients and production of their beers.
And lastly, there are many websites now dedicated to listing beers that are vegan, so in many cases, a simple google search will answer the question for you.
For the most part, it is the fining agents that breweries add to a beer in order to make it look more clear that cause the most problems when it comes to whether a beer is vegan, this is because most of these fining agents come from animal by-products. The following is a list of the most commonly used fining agents in beer that you can watch out for…
Isinglass & Its Use in Beer
The use of Isinglass in the production of beer has been a process that has been used for hundreds of years and it continues to be used by many breweries to this day. It functions as a fining agent and is used to filter, clarify and clear the beer before it is packaged.
It works by binding to the particles in the beer that cause it to appear cloudy and removing them by causing them to sink and settle out at the bottom of the vessel. The end result is a crisp, clean, and clear-looking beer with much less cloudiness or haze.
There are many different types of fining agents that can be used in the production of beer, but isinglass remains one of the most widely used due to its effectiveness and low cost.
The problem for vegans is that Isinglass is derived from the swim bladders of fish, usually sturgeon.
What Types of Beer are Made with Isinglass?
Isinglass can be used in the production of any style of beer however traditionally it is used by brewers of traditional cask ales, such as English pale ales, bitters, and milds. Many British breweries use isinglass to clear yeast from their beers, including some of the larger well-known breweries. A search of any brewery’s website should reveal whether they use it or not.
It should be mentioned that many of the larger beer companies and a large percentage of the smaller craft brewers have stopped using isinglass as a fining agent due to its animal origins.
Instead, other vegan-friendly alternatives are becoming increasingly popular, such as Irish moss or kappa carrageenan which are forms of seaweed. Cold crashing for longer periods of time is another method that can be used to clear a beer.
Gelatin & Its Use in Beer
Gelatin is a type of protein found in animal sources, such as collagen from animal tissue, bones, hides, and other connective tissues.
It is often used as an additive when making beer to help clarify the beer by aiding in a process referred to as flocculation. Flocculation involves the clumping together of dead yeast cells and proteins causing them to fall out of suspension and settle to the bottom of the beer where they can then be filtered out making for a cleaner and clearer-looking beer.
An additional reason gelatin is used by many breweries is that it also helps with foam stability allowing for improved head retention in the beer.
Gelatin is generally added after fermentation is complete in order to avoid off-flavors from the protein being altered during fermentation. The amount used varies by beer style, but can usually range from one teaspoon per five gallons of wort for lighter beers to two teaspoons per five gallons for darker and higher-gravity beers.
Casein and its Use in Beer
Casein is an animal-based protein that comes from milk and cheese. Like most of the other additives, it is used as a fining agent in the production of beer to improve its clarity and reduce its level of cloudiness or haze, without sacrificing flavor or aroma.
It works by binding to the proteins and tannins in the unfermented beer and acting as a magnet of sorts, drawing them together and clumping them up. These proteins and tannins are then removed from the beer through a process called “cold crashing”, which involves cooling the beer to close to freezing temperatures resulting in the particles suspended in the beer dropping out of suspension and settling out at the bottom of the beer.
Glycerin and its Use in Beer
Glycerin is an organic compound that has a sweet taste but is also colorless and odorless. It is commonly used in the production of many food products, including beer.
It can be derived from either animal fat or vegetable oil and is then processed and added during the production of beer for various purposes.
Glycerin has what is known as hygroscopic properties that are used to help the beer maintain its quality, freshness, and taste for longer periods of time by capturing and retaining moisture. It also helps create a fuller body in the beer as well as a smoother mouthfeel. At times it will also be used to increase the sweetness of a beer and enhance its flavor profile.
And like the other additives we have looked at, it can be used to increase the head retention and carbonation level of a beer.
What Beers are Vegan?
As you have seen there are many things to look for when searching for a vegan beer and the fact is that many beers on the market are not vegan-friendly primarily due to the filtering methods used to clear them.
However, more and more breweries are becoming conscious of the demand from consumers for beers that do not use animal products in their production, and nowadays there are more vegan-friendly options available than ever before with more hitting the market on a regular basis.
Although more and more breweries are starting to identify their beers as vegan on the label or their website the problem still remains that some do not and sadly they are not required by law to do so. So unfortunately at the moment, it falls to the consumer to do their own research.
One of the best places to do your research is the internet. Although we have not been able to locate a complete list of vegan-free beers per se; on this site, we do review many of the top beers for whether they are vegan-friendly, and there are many other websites that do the same.
As you have seen beer in its traditional form is indeed vegan as it is made up of only 4 ingredients that are all vegan-friendly (grain, hops, yeast, and water), where the problem lies is in the finings used to filter and clear some beers on the market, as many of these fining agents are derived from animal sources. Because they do fall out of the beer and allegedly do not make it into the final product many beer companies do not consider them to be ingredients of the beer and do not list them, however, vegans do. So in the end, if a beer is not labeled vegan the onus will be on the consumer to do their own research to see if the beer is vegan.
P.S. Making vegan beer is simple, just do not add any finings made of animal products. If you brew your own beer or wish to start be sure to pick up your gift of Big Robbs top 5 favorite beer recipes from his brewpub. Details are on the side of the blog or at the bottom if you are on your phone. Cheers