Is Alcohol Vegan? Finding Vegan Alcohol can be particularly challenging. If you have read our other articles on Vegan Wine (Why Is Wine Not Vegan – How To Know The Truth) and Vegan Beer (Is Beer Vegan – Introducing The Secret To Finding Out) you know that manufacturers are not required to list ingredients on labels for beer, wine or liquor. With veganism constantly growing (there are now 9.7 million people in the US who have gone plant-based or vegan) and around 70% of Americans consuming some alcohol each week we thought it would be helpful to break down everything you need to know on “Is alcohol vegan?” In this article, we will concentrate on breaking down the three main groups of alcoholic beverages: beer, wine, and liquor-based drinks and looking at whether these alcohols are vegan.
Is Alcohol Vegan?
As a general rule, most wines are not vegan due to non-vegan fining agents being used in the clarification process. As a general rule, most beers tend to be vegan but some are not if isinglass or gelatin are used as the fining agent. As a general rule, the vast majority of neat liquors are vegan due to no fining agents being used in the distillation process.
IS BEER VEGAN
Is Alcohol Vegan – Most Beer Is Vegan.
Most beers are vegan. This is due to the basic ingredients just being: Water, Malt, Hops, and Yeast. The brewing process isn’t even that complicated. Wikipedia describes it as such:
“The basic ingredients of beer are water; a starch source, such as malted barley, able to be saccharified (converted to sugars) then fermented (converted into ethanol and carbon dioxide); a brewer’s yeast to produce the fermentation; and a flavoring such as hops.”
In fact, so sacred is this 5,500-year-old beverage that in some parts of the world the recipe is even legally prescribed. For example, in Germany if you want to be able to call your beer “beer” then you must follow the German Purity Law (also known as Reinheitsgebot) of 1516 that states beer can only be made from these four ingredients: water, malt, hops, and yeast.
Is Alcohol Vegan – How Is Beer Not Vegan?
If Beer’s ingredients are vegan and, in some locations what exactly can go into beer is governed by law, how can beer not be vegan? It’s a good question, right? Well, the issue is not the ingredients but rather the brewing process.
There are four stages to brewing beer: Prepare, Brew, Ferment, and Bottle. To make beer you start by mixing your water, malt, and hops together and heating to create your wort (the stuff that is going to get fermented). You then cool and ferment by adding yeast. Seal it up and let the fermentation get to work. Next, you filter your beer and then you finally bottle it.
The issue is the filtration process.
Is Alcohol Vegan – The Beer Filtration Process and Fining Agents
After fermentation, the “beer” mixture can be left cloudy. This is because hops leave polyphenols in the beer and yeast creates a hazy effect which can cause a lack of clarity. Brewers will then use fining agents that clump together unwanted molecules in the beer, which then sink to the bottom into larger easily removable clumps. The result is a clear and smooth beer with any bitter edges taken off.
The issue is the types of fining agents that are used to produce this clarification. The most common fining agents used in the beer industry are Isinglass (dried fish swim bladders) or Gelatin (collagen extracted from skin, bones, and connective tissue of animals). Neither are vegan.
Gelatin and Isinglass are the most common fining agents used, but other non-vegan fining agents such as Milk Proteins (Caseins) and Albumen (egg white proteins) can also be used. Any beer that uses these types of fining agents will not be vegan.
Is Alcohol Vegan – So, Is Any Beer Vegan?
The good news is that beer does not need to be filtered using fining agents. Manufacturers can instead use polishing filtration by chilling the beer overnight to separate the “chill haze” and then using pressure to filter the beer from one keg to another. This setup is more expensive which is why a lot of beer manufacturers such with using cheaper fining agents. But as veganism grows more and more manufacturers have invested in this higher-tech filtration process.
Is Alcohol Vegan – How Can I Tell If My Beer Is Vegan?
You can’t. Labeling laws mean beer manufacturers are not required to list ingredients on their packaging. Hold on, ingredients are not the issue, right? That’s right. Depending on the beer ingredients are not the issue (some beers add honey, dairy, or glycerine), it’s the brewing process. However, labeling laws also don’t require beer manufacturers to list allergens such as dairy, nuts, eggs, etc.
The only way to be certain your beer is vegan is to check with the beer manufacturer. There are a couple of rules of thumb you can follow: (1) Certain countries have stricter laws on what can and cannot be beer. German and Belgian beers are two examples of these. Beers from Germany or Belgium are always most likely to be vegan, and (2) if your beer is cloudy it has most likely not had a fining agent added. and is therefore vegan
If you want a detailed breakdown of what beers are and are not vegan, as well as a list of beer brands that are vegan then check out our article, Is Beer Vegan – Introducing The Secret To Finding Out.
Is Wine Vegan?
Is Alcohol Vegan – Most Wine Is Not Vegan.
Most wine is not vegan. Most wine is not even vegetarian. As with beer above, it is not the ingredients – grapes, sugar, and yeast – that are the issue but the production process. Like beer, the wine manufacturing process involves a clarification or filtration process. It is during this process that wine manufacturers use fining agents to clarify wine mixtures.
You see following fermentation the wine mixture is left cloudy and hazy. This is the result of molecules such as proteins, tartrates, tannins, and phenolics produced from the fermentation process. These molecules create a hazy and cloudy mixture that can affect flavor, color, and texture. To remove this “haze” wine manufacturers will use fining agents. These work by binding to the unwanted molecules, clumping them together in bigger masses so they can be easily filtered and removed.
Is Alcohol Vegan – Types of Fining Agents
The issue is that the most common fining agents used in a wine are predominately non-vegan. Examples include Gelatin, Isinglass (dried swim fish bladders), Egg Whites (egg albumen), Casein (milk proteins), Skim Milk, Bentonite (clay-based fining agent), Carbon (activated charcoal), and Polyvinylpolypyrrolidone (PVPP) (a synthetic fining agent). Out of all eight of these fining agents, only 3 are vegan – Bentonite, Carbon, and PVPP – and unfortunately, these are the less commonly used in the wine-making industry.
Is Alcohol Vegan – How Can I Tell If My Wine Is Vegan?
Labeling laws make this the hard part. Currently, winemakers are not required to state whether their wine is vegan or vegetarian, list ingredients, or allergens on their bottle labeling. This can make it extremely difficult to tell if your wine is vegan or not. However, the good news is there are a couple of things you can do to check: (1) check if the front or back label of the wine says it is vegan – more and more winemakers are marketing their wines as vegan; and (2) check to see if your wine has been un-fined – un-fined wines have not gone through the fining process meaning they will not have been subjected to any fining agents. Your local wine merchant will be able to tell you which wines are un-fined.
If you want a more detailed breakdown of vegan wine, then check out our article Why is Wine Not Vegan – How To Tell The Truth?.
Are Spirits / Liquor Vegan?
Is Alcohol Vegan – Most Liquor Is Vegan.
Spirits and Liquors are mostly vegan. This is thanks to the Distillation Process rather than the Fermentation Process which is used in Wine and Beer. Unlike fermentation, distillation involves the process of physically removing alcohol from a fermented mixture using evaporation and condensation. This can happen because alcohol has a lower boiling point than water. This means distillers can evaporate alcohol from a mixture base and then cool the vapors resulting in the alcohol condensing and forming back into a liquid. During the process, other compounds, other than alcohol, such as tannins, esters, and methanol go through this same evaporation and condensation process which gives each spirit its unique flavor and taste depending on the base.
This distillation process is the only way of creating strong liquors above 14 to 18% ABV and means that no fining agents (which traditionally cause wine and beer to not be vegan) are required. Also, liquors can be distilled numerous times to produce clear liquors and unique flavor profiles.
Is Alcohol Vegan – Types of Distilling.
There are two types of distillation methods: (1) Alembic (also known as “Pot Distilling”); and (2) Column Distilling.
Alembic or Pot Distilling is the process of fermenting a batch in a big bucket, heating it up, and then evaporating it through cooling tubes forcing it to condensate and be collected in a new pot.
Column Distilling is the mass production method for distilling liquor. It involves filling columns with large continuous amounts of fermented base and steam. The steam then causes the alcohol to be evaporated from the fermented base and leaves behind anything unwanted. The process can go on continuously allowing for more efficient and larger liquor/spirit production.
Is Alcohol Vegan – Things to Watch Out For In Liquor?
Yes, while any distilled liquor will be vegan because of the distillation process, there are still a few things to look out for which often involve the addition of honey or milk to create a non-pure liquor. These are:
- Cream-Based Liquors. Irish Cream liquors such as Baileys contain dairy cream. Baileys does now do a vegan version made from almond milk – check out our review of it here – Vegan Baileys – The Truth About This Surpising Drink.
- Any liquors or cocktails with honey added. Some liquors, particularly bourbon and whiskey, add honey for flavor.
- Some pre-made cocktail mixers contain dried milk. even including mixers such as margaritas and daiquiris (surprised right?!). Always check the ingredients labels of any pre-made mixers you buy from the grocery store or ask your bartender to check ingredient labels if they are using pre-made mixers.
- Any cocktails with egg added. Most sour cocktails such as whiskey sours have egg added – so if you order a sour drink when out just request the bartender to make it without the egg!
- Liquors that contain carmine/cochineal extract. This is a red food dye made from the cochineal bug to give some liquors their red hue. There are many different ways carmine/cochineal have been labeled globally and historically such as “natural red 4”, “crimson lake”, “E120” , however, US manufacturers are now required to list carmine/cochineal by name on the label so look out for it.
- Bloody Mary’s. A traditional bloody Mary cocktail contains Worcestershire sauce which contains anchovies. If you are whipping up a bloody mary at home, you can simply substitute it with a vegan Worcestershire sauce. If you are ordering in a bar or restaurant, just make sure to omit the Worcestershire sauce.
- Sugar. One final thing to watch out for is the sugar used in any drinks (usually cocktails or pre-made mixers). Yes, that is right sugar. Some types of sugar used (not only in drinks but everywhere) are filtered using bone char. As a result, even though sugar as an ingredient is vegan, it is the manufacturing process that can make it not vegan. This is not true for all types of sugars. Sugar labeled as organic, raw, or unrefined will not have been filtered using bone car and therefore vegan. Also, high fructose corn syrup, a common sweetener used in the US, is not filtered using bone char and is vegan. Beet sugar, similarly, is also usually vegan. It is important to note that no bone char is left in the sugar – it is just used in the production process. This could be one to watch out for depending on your stance.
Is Alcohol Vegan – The Final Sip
Yes, no, maybe. Like most things vegan-related there isn’t a yes or no answer. Yes, some beers are vegan, and yes, some beers are not vegan. Likewise, yes, some wine is vegan, and some wine is not vegan. If you are looking for a definitive answer, then the best that can currently be given is:
- Beer – mostly likely vegan.
- Wine – most likely not vegan.
- Neat Spirits and Liquor – almost always vegan.
Spirits and liquors are almost always vegan because of the way the distilling process works. However, this is only when they are in the pure spirit form. That means unless you enjoy drinking everything neat then you also need to watch out for what is being added to your spirit or liquor to create a mixture. For example, have a particular hankering for Vodka and Diet Pepsi then your drink will not be vegan (Diet Pepsi is not vegan). However, decide to have a Vodka and Regular Pepsi and you are good to go – all vegan.
Not into stronger spirits or liquors? Then the good news is that a large amount of the bigger beer manufacturers have changed their manufacturing processes to produce vegan beer. We provide a list of those in our article Is Beer Vegan – Introducing The Secret To Finding Out.
Wine is more your thing? Well, there are still vegan wines out there. It is just the hardest category to find them in. If you are looking for a vegan wine look for one labeled as vegan or as un-fined. Failing that speak to a good wine merchant who should know. We also provide a list of some winemakers who produce vegan wines in our article Why is Wine Not Vegan – How To Tell The Truth?
…now you know.
Beverage makers may change ingredients and/or manufacturing processes. Always double-check ingredients before purchasing any beverages.
Please Drink Responsibly.
Like What You Are Reading
Like this article, want to find out more? Want to know if your favorite wine, spirit, or even if your morning coffee (yes, your morning coffee) is vegan? Then check out some of our other articles and sign up for our newsletter below:
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