A bar is a minefield for an herbivorous human. Obviously the buffalo chicken wings are off limits, but are the mushrooms fried in vegetable oil or animal fat? Do those potato skins come with bacon bits? Is it possible to substitute a veggie patty for the 100% Angus beef hamburger? And the soup of the day—does it have chicken broth? What about cream?
Well, my veg*n friends, I’ve got some more bad news for you: if you’re pursuing an animal-free diet, not even your alcohol is safe. More sinister even than the bacon you can taste hiding in your supposedly vegetarian potato soup, many types of beer, wine and liquor use animal byproducts in the brewing and distilling processes. While some, like honey beer, are obviously not vegan, many others aren’t veg*n-friendly but fail to indicate that anywhere on their labels.
“Where on earth are these animal products hiding?” the concerned veg*n asks herself. “I mean, surely Sam Adams isn’t spiking my Boston Lager with chicken broth, right? Right?” It’s nothing quite that obvious—and don’t worry, your Boston Lager is safe (though Sam Adams Cherry Wheat is not). Animal products are often used to clarify or filter alcoholic products before they’re ready to hit the shelves. While there are perfectly acceptable vegan alternatives, the use of non-veg*n substances like isinglass (collagen from the swim bladders of fish), gelatin, carmine (derived from beetles), casein and seashells are still common.
As a general rule, veg*ns should avoid British beer and opt for German or Belgian brews instead. Nothing against our good friends across the pond: it’s just that British breweries are more likely to use isinglass, gelatin, and other animal products in their fining process, whereas German and Belgian brewers rely on more traditional vegan methods. Cask ales, from any country, are also more likely to have been produced using non-animal-friendly methods. Stout beers, for the most part, should be avoided, as they often contain lactose derived from milk. Non-vegan beers include Guinness, which uses isinglass in the fining process, and Great Lakes Christmas Ale, which contains honey.
Here in Columbus, we’re lucky to have a large selection of beer that is safe for veg*ns to enjoy responsibly. All Columbus Brewing Company beers are vegan except for those that contain honey, which is generally indicated by the name of the beer. Likewise, no Great Lakes beer is filtered using animal products, so they, too, are safe except for brews like the Christmas Ale that contain honey. Yuengling is 100% vegan, as is every variety of Heineken, Corona and Dos Equis. Most Budweiser brews are also safe, and while Dogfish Head doesn’t use animal products to clarify their beer, they do have a few that contain honey.
Wine has an even bigger non-vegan-filtration problem than beer has. Barefoot Wine, for example, is completely off-limits, as the winemakers use gelatin and protein from animals, fish, milk and eggs for fining. Yellow Tail red wines are animal-friendly, but the same can’t be said for the white and rose, which use gelatin in the filtration process. Robert Mondavi wines are also a no-go, as they use everything from gelatin to egg albumin in their refining process. In fact, most the wine you’re used to seeing on grocery store shelves isn’t vegan. For a list of those that are, check out the Vegan Wine Guide.
Luckily for cocktail fans everywhere, most non-flavored liquors are vegan. Unflavored Smirnoff, Three Olives, Bacardi, Captain Morgan, Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire, Johnnie Walker, Maker’s Mark, Jose Cuervo and Patron are all safe for veg*n consumption. Both Watershed vodka and gin are vegan, as well. The trouble begins when you start venturing into flavored liquors and liqueurs, which may contain non-vegan-friendly products like honey or dairy. And, of course, watch out for the worm in high-end tequilas, and any cocktails that contain egg or milk.
Unfortunately, the only way to know for sure if no animals were harming in the making of your alcohol is to ask the company. Good vegan alcohol guides exist online, though. If you have doubts about your alcohol, check out the extensive beer, wine and liquor database at Barnivore.com.
creative commons photo credit: The Sean & Lauren Spectacular