Last Updated on December 21, 2023
Water, malt, hops, and yeast – these are the main ingredients of beer. In principle, they’re plant-based and contain no animal by-product. But not all beers are created vegan. Many of them will contain other ingredients (such as gelatin, casein, and isinglass) to enhance taste, body, and clarity.
Before you enjoy a pale ale, make sure you’re drinking the best beer for your vegan diet. Unfortunately, you can’t rely on labels alone. But understanding the brewing process and familiarizing yourself with beer ingredients can help you make better choices.
What Are Finings and How Do They Work?
Finings are substances used in the clarification and stabilization of beverages, particularly in the production of beer and wine. When brewing beer for instance, residue may occur from the fermentation of yeast and malt. The finings remove these unwanted particles and sediment. This results in a clearer and more stable final product.
Common ingredients used as finings include gelatin, a protein obtained from animal collagen (normally sourced from animal bones and tissues); casein, a milk protein; and egg whites, specifically the albumen. These help to coagulate and precipitate the particles, making it easier to filter them out. For vegans, the use of these traditional finings is problematic because they involve animal products.
The good news is that there are vegan fining agents. The most common is bentonite clay, which is sourced from weathered volcanic ash. Activated charcoal and agar-agar (a seaweed-derived substance) are also good alternatives.
For both the beer and wine industries, polyclar or polyvinylpolypyrrolidone (PVPP) fining agents are notably used. PVPP is a synthetic polymer that not only reduces compounds, but also brightens color and preserves the natural flavor of the beverage. PVPP products such as polygel UK are gentle and more dependable for making consistently great-tasting beer and wine.
The Challenge for Vegan Beer Enthusiasts
According to the Vegan Society, veganism is defined as:
“…a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”
So if anything from animals is used in making something, the final product isn’t good for vegans and strict vegetarians. While beer labels may not include animal by-products, brewmasters and distillers may still add them at any point during the brewing process.
For example, fining agents like isinglass (a type of collagen that comes from fish bladders) may be used to clarify beer. Normally, all finings should settle out before consumption. However, in practice, there’s no guarantee of complete removal. Also, the beer can’t be deemed vegan because of animal-derived processing aids.
Another issue is with the method of fining. Some people will say it’s unnecessary, especially if you brew at home. While drinking clear beer is a must for others, several folks will argue that a little suspension is independent of taste. Nevertheless, distillers and brewmasters continue to use some kind of fining to help them craft the best beer.
Is Your Favorite Beer Vegan? Here’s How To Tell
Most beers are already vegan, thanks to modern brewing techniques. To be on the safe side however, here are a few tips to determine if your favorite lager is vegan-friendly:
Check the ingredients:
The easiest way to find out is to read the ingredients list. Beer flavored with honey or any type of dairy is a no-brainer. So is the addition of oysters and other forms of seafood-based element. Once you read these, put it back on the rack.
There are globally recognized certifications to ensure you’re buying 100% vegan products. One of them is the Certified Vegan Logo from Vegan.org. Another is the EVE Vegan® certification mark, which is recognized everywhere. The V-Label is a Switzerland-based trademark that is supported by the European Vegetarian Union (EVU). Check out local certifications in your country as well.
Contact the Brewery:
When in doubt, contact the brewery customer care. You can do this via their website or by sending them an email. A lot of companies nowadays are transparent about their brewing process and would be happy to answer your questions.
Be knowledgeable about fining agents in alcoholic beverages so you can make the right dietary choices. Aside from looking for “vegan-friendly” labels, read blogs and community forums for recommendations. Be familiar with manufacturers that are transparent about their production methods. And yes, you can also brew your own!
Cheers To Vegan Beers!
As more vegan-friendly options become available, it’s an exciting time to shift to more cruelty-free choices. Breweries and brewmasters around the world are exploring flavorful alternatives that cater to both the vegan lifestyle and the love for great beer. Not to mention the growing number of enthusiasts who make their own brews at home. This reflects a positive evolution in the industry.
Eventually, every household can enjoy ethical and sustainable lager with no worries. And that’s something we could all raise a glass to. Cheers!