Animal-free alcohol

Written by on January 15, 2013 in liquor - 8 Comments

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


This is a guest post by Emily Baselt. Emily is a writer, blogger, and professional bar-goer who writes about politics by day and drinking by night.

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8 Comments on "Animal-free alcohol"

  1. Lindy January 15, 2013 at 10:47 AM · Reply

    With all due respect to your eating preferences…way to perpetuate the stereotype of annoying vegan!

    In the spirit of conversation – Now vegans have to worry about swim bladder abuse and sea shells? I am just an ignorant carnivore, but how are using sea shells (remains of deceased sea creatures) and honey (one of the oldest foods in the world and a renewable animal by-product) harming animals? Extremism in any form is not a desirable quality.

    That said, good luck with your informative blog and continue “Drinking Up”

    • Cheryl Harrison January 15, 2013 at 10:55 AM · Reply

      I’m not a vegan (I don’t think the author is, either) but I just find the subject terribly interesting because I would never in a million years be smart enough to consider that what I’m drinking might have been filtered by an animal bone or something.

      • Lindy January 15, 2013 at 4:14 PM · Reply

        Good point, Cheryl, but aren’t there some things in life that if you don’t know it, it won’t hurt you? As a foodie, sometimes, within reason, can’t you just like something without knowing if fish swim bladders were used in making it?

        • C February 15, 2013 at 7:08 PM · Reply

          Lindy, kudos to you for demonstrating the importance of “ignorance is bliss” and pretending a problem doesn’t exist because you “turn a blind eye”. That strategy has helped civilization through the ages, hasn’t it? The point of veganism is not to be some kind of food extremist. It’s to live a lifestyle showing that using animals is not only not necessary, but actually detrimental to the animals, humans, and the earth itself. BTW, do a bit of research on honey and the honey bee. It’s not what it used to be like back in 400BC or even when great- grandma was alive.

  2. Keith January 15, 2013 at 6:16 PM · Reply

    Filtering is bad terminology. The wines and beers are fined with these various substances that have a natural charge to them and attach themselves to various particles or even soluble proteins and settle to the bottom of the storage container. They are gone and not in the wine unless you want to test them to the parts per trillion level. Often any commercial winery or brewery wil also filter after using a fining agent to insure clarity. Most wineries usually only use bentonite to fine so as to make sure the wine is heat stable (attracts and clings to soluble proteins). Bentonite is a natural mined clay material with no animal nor flora constituents. Often kieselsol or sparkolloid are used to help settleing of the bentonite. Neither of these have any living product sort of makeup either. Filter pads are made of cellulose and possibly some sort of Diotomaceous earth in the pad structure. So no real animal stuff in them either. It wouldn’t hurt to ask if you are concerned about what was used to fine a wine or beer, but the rate would be in the ppt at best that would remain.

  3. Ryan Bell January 22, 2013 at 8:08 AM · Reply

    What’s with the asterisk in half of the article? Makes VEGAN look like a curse word. :P
    “Stout beers, for the most part, should be avoided, as they often contain lactose derived from milk.” –> This would only apply to a certain style of stout, the milk/cream/sweet stout. Other stouts contain no lactose sugars.
    Keith is correct on fining vs filtering… in filtering the beer is passed through a material, leaving particulates and yeast behind. In fining, the additive settles out of the beer (or wine), pulling the undesirable components out based on charge and attraction. However, even if there is no gelatin still present in the beer, those following the concept of veganism will still object based on animal components being used in the process. I see vegetarian as a dietary choice, and veganism as a lifestyle.

    • Cheryl Harrison January 23, 2013 at 9:10 PM · Reply

      Veg*n is the accepted way to mean both vegan and vegetarian

  4. Ryan Bell January 22, 2013 at 8:10 AM · Reply

    I also am amused by the image of vegans asking for Beefeater Gin at the bar…

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