So you’ve mastered vegan food, now it’s on to understanding the alcohol side.. and before you panic – yes absolutely, vegans can and do drink alcohol. You can still enjoy nights out when transitioning to a vegan diet with a gin and tonic in your hand!
Initially when I turned vegan, it’s not something I even considered looking into. I just presumed all alcohol was vegan, but boy was I wrong. Just like vegan food, clothing and beauty products, vegan alcohol does not contain any animal products and it has also not used any animal ingredients during its production. Majority of alcohol that is not vegan friendly, has used animal ingredients during it’s production rather than containing animal products. You don’t get many bacon flavoured wines but you do get wine that is filtered through fish.. gross I know!
So How do I know What Alcohol is Vegan Friendly?
Unfortunately, finding vegan alcohol isn’t as easy as finding vegan friendly food. The reason for this is, manufacturers aren’t required to list ingredients on labels for beer, wine, and spirits. It isn’t impossible though! Keep on reading to find out more..
Common Non-Vegan Ingredients and Fining Agents used in Alcohol
- Milk and cream. These are sometimes used in cocktails and even beers and liqueurs to give a creamy flavour.
- Whey, casein, and lactose. These milk byproducts are occasionally used as ingredients or fining agents.
- Honey. Honey is fermented to make mead and used as a sweetener in some alcoholic beverages.
- Eggs. Egg white protein, also known as albumin, is often used as a fining agent in wine. Eggs are also added to some cocktails.
- Isinglass. This popular fining agent is derived from fish bladders, mostly found in beer and wine.
- Gelatin. Gelatin is not only used to make jello, puddings, and gravies but also commonly serves as a fining agent.. It is also derived from animal skin, bones, and cartilage.
- Cochineal and carmine. Carmine, a red dye made out of scaly insects called cochineal, is added to some alcoholic beverages for colour.
- Chitin. Chitin is a fiber which is used as a fining agent. Though vegan versions exist, it’s often a byproduct of insects or shellfish
So if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably not heard of half of these ingredients. The reason I have listed them is just to make you aware of products that can be in alcohol or part of the alcohol making process, which makes them not vegan.
The easiest alcohol in my opinion that vegans can go to is hard spirits!
You’ll be glad to know that nearly all distilled spirits are vegan except for cream-based liqueurs and products that mention honey on the label. Here’s a list of the typical spirits that most people go to, which are vegan:
As mentioned earlier, it is mainly the process that makes some alcohol non vegan. When it comes to spirits, such fining isn’t necessary because the process of distillation that every spirit goes through removes the various agents that can cloud other drinks. Spirits are naturally clear and so filtration isn’t required.
Off to the bar and get me a double please!
This is where it starts to get tricky and a little confusing! I know what you’re thinking, isn’t wine made from grapes? Yes it is, but the final ‘fining’ process often uses animal derivatives to latch onto any impurities in the wine, so that unwanted particles can be easily caught in the filters before bottling.
- White, rose and sparkling wine – Typically use isinglass which is derived from fish swim bladders. This makes the product clear.
- Red wine – Egg whites and milk protein are often used to remove bitter flavours.
Interestingly, these processes are not necessary but they do drastically speed up production. It would take more than a month for wine to clear naturally. However, that is not to say you can never drink wine again as there are some manufacturers that do clarify naturally. You will need to look out for ‘not fined/filtered’ on labels. There are also some organic wineries that use natural rock and clay.
The easiest way to find out whether your wine is vegan is by checking barnivore.com.
Beer is typically made of a few basic ingredients: water, a starch source (usually malted barley), brewer’s yeast and flavorings. Nothing non vegan yet… However, specific types of beer, such as milk stouts, contain lactose, and others may contain honey. These can be easily spotted in the ingredient list and you’ll be glad to know that most beers are vegan friendly.
The more common problem with beer is the use of isinglass in the production, which is typical of wine also. Fortunately, breweries are gradually abandoning the practice of using animal byproducts for fining. As vegan diets are growing, it’s becoming harmful for business for brewers to deliberately make beers with these substances. In 2017, Guiness made its famous Extra Stout beer vegan by installing new equipment at its main brewery in Dublin.
Here’s a list of some Vegan Beers which are popular and widely available:
- Stella Artois
- San Miguel
- Pear-flavoured Magners
Vegan ale is also a fast-growing trend amongst craft beer companies here in the UK. Few of them which are embracing plant-based brewing: Moor, Marble, BrewDog. As well as the obvious ethical benefits, it is widely accepted that removing isinglass significantly improves the flavour and taste of the finished product.
When it comes to cider, the vast majority are not vegan friendly. The most popular brands incorporate gelatine into their manufacturing, such as Kopparberg, Strongbow and Rekorderlig.
What’s The Best Way to Approach Alcohol as a Vegan?
You need to find to the go to brands that you know and trust. At first, especially if you are a wine or beer drinker this may seem limited. Once you experiment more with vegan alcohol, you’ll start to understand what you like and what you don’t like. My go to is checking out barnivore, which is an online directly of alcoholic beverages that give you information on whether a brand is vegan-friendly or not. It has more than 44,000 alcoholic beverages and is well known to be a reliable source of what’s vegan. Make sure you do your research before you go out, as you could hold up that bar queue whilst your figuring out whether the alcohol you’re ordering is vegan. Get prepared for those dirty looks!
So I’m in a Social Situation and I’m offered a Drink, What do I do?
Ok so this has happened to me a few times, when you’re in a social situation and you’re offered that yummy cocktail but you’re just not sure if it’s vegan. You can politely decline.. Or you can claim ignorance and run with it. It is entirely up to you how you handle the situation. There have been times when I have drank alcohol which is not vegan, without realising it wasn’t vegan! It is so easy to overlook situations at times, but personally I don’t want any part in supporting the fining agent products that use animal ingredients. It just sounds disgusting too, why would I want to drink delicious grape wine which has been filtered through fish? Especially when it can be made naturally, and will also taste better if it is!
I would love to hear about your stance on fining agents in alcohol, do you think it’s important to not drink non vegan alcohol? How do you monitor whether your alcohol is vegan? Comment below and let me know!
If you need any help transitioning to a vegan diet, go check out this step by step guide.