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Beer is one of the world’s third most popular drinks, after water and tea. Not only is it popular, but it’s also one of the world’s oldest prepared drinks. There ‘s evidence that beer may have been produced as early as 8500 BC. That’s a lot of history in a glass.
What is beer?
Beer is an alcoholic drink made from the fermentation of grain – most commonly barley, wheat, maize and rice. Hops, water and yeast are added along the way too. The fermentation of the starch sugars produces CO2 and alcohol resulting in beer.
On the surface, it all sounds vegan-friendly. But, not all beers are vegan.
Beers may have added honey and dairy. Usually, those are easy to spot and avoid, but not always. There is something even harder to identify that may make your beer not vegan…
Did you know that up until 2017, Guinness used fish bladders in their filtration process? How weird is that? But sadly, it’s not uncommon.
Finings are added during the production of beer to clarify the beer and clear out impurities. Finings are often products like isinglass (dried fish bladders), and gelatin (bone, skin and tissue extracts). Less commonly, you may find casein (cow milk protein), insects (such as carmine for colouring), lactose (cow milk) and more.
It’s whether the finings are animal-derived or plant-derived that determines whether or not a final product is vegan-friendly. Exactly what’s used varies according to each brewery.
Unlike food labels, which require labelling when animal-derived ingredients are present, alcoholic beverages don’t follow the same scrutiny. I hope this is something we see changing in the near future.
In Canada and the USA, there is no requirement to list ingredients. In The UK, there is a required allergy declaration for milk and eggs. Though, if it is not at detection level, they are exempt from these labelling requirements. Gelatin and isinglass are specifically exempt from these allergy labelling requirements.
Unfortunately, you can’t count on labelling in this scenario.
Why does this matter?
There may be micro traces of animal products in the beer, but purity isn’t really the issue. When it comes to veganism, it’s the unnecessary use of animals to create a product that is significant.
Not all vegans are even aware of this process. Though, those that are may not worry about tracking down the filtration process of every drink. This is something you’ll have to determine for yourself.
It’s easy to avoid flavouring additives like honey and milk. The other stuff is not so obvious. The only way to know is to vet your beer ahead of time.
Are there vegan options available?
There are new filtering techniques available without the use of animal products, and typically newly established craft beers follow this process. This will vary from brewery to brewery.
Some companies, such as Steel & Oak Brewing in BC, Canada, are taking it a step further and labelling their beers vegan. I hope to see this as standard in the future. It takes the guesswork right out of it!
Another alternative: Homebrewing
This may be a case for homebrewing. There are many hobbyists that do this now for fun rather than necessity! If you’re interested in giving DIY a try, this is a great way to control all the ingredients and processes.
There are so many different beer making kits and recipes to recreate your favourite brews. I would start out with a pre-made beginner beer-making kit. While there are kits for the more avid hobbyist, start small and try it out before investing.
Most of these kits are pretty affordable and might be a fun activity to take on with a friend. You can enjoy the process together and have a cold beer at the end.
Where to find out which beer is vegan
If you’d like to check out your favourite brews, Barnivore is the largest database. You can look up beer, wine and liquor. They have nearly 50,000 entries. You can also submit a check of your own. A mobile app is coming soon so you can easily view on the go.
If an alcoholic drink is not listed there, your next best bet is to contact the brewery yourself. Most are happy to answer any questions you might have.
Always make the best choices you can in the moment. Only you can decide if this is practical or important to you. If you’re new to the lifestyle, focus your time and energy on the foods you eat. Don’t worry about beer until you get the basics down.
Even if you don’t avoid these beers, it may be worthwhile to support vegan options or vegan specific breweries whenever possible. When you spend money supporting these causes, you show them that there is value.
Every time you make a purchase, you are voting for that product and supporting that company. It’s up to you to choose who and what you value and spend accordingly.
And finally, remember to always drink responsibly. Just because a product is vegan doesn’t mean it’s any better for you or less alcoholic. Know your limit and stay within it.
This is a guest post by Morgan Fitchett.
Morgan Fitchett is a Vegan Life & Wellness Coach and the owner of The Veg Query. She is passionate about the benefits of veganism and has been vegan since 2013. Morgan helps women make the transition to a vegan lifestyle without giving up the life they love. You can find her at thevegquery.com or facebook.com/thevegquery