The Ultimate Guide to Vegan Beer
Whether it’s a refreshing lager on a hot summer's night, a hoppy IPA at the end of a long day or a heavy-bodied stout on a winter’s evening, there’s so many incredible craft beers to choose from out there. But what about vegan beer? Many are surprised to know that not all beer is classed as vegan because some contain hidden animal ingredients. Since alcohol doesn’t come with ingredient labels it can make it difficult to know whether any animal-derived products are used to make this delicious alcoholic beverage leaving us as consumers rather baffled. We’re here to help guide you about what to look out for when it comes to vegan beer.
Is beer vegan?
Since the main ingredients used to make beer are water, yeast, hops and grain you’ll be forgiven for thinking that all beer must be vegan. Each of these ingredients are 100% vegan so surely beer is vegan, right? Wrong.
Whether or not beer can be classified as vegan is down to the ingredients used during the fining process. This stage in the brewing process filters out yeast and impurities in order to produce the crisp, clear beverage that we know and love. However many beers are made using processes which have animal derivatives which make them unsuitable for individuals following a vegan lifestyle. We take a look at this in more detail below.
Why are some beers not vegan?
So why are some beers not suitable for vegans? It’s all because of the filtering and distilling process. Historically animal products have been used to create the smooth, clear liquid you know and love. Anything from fish bladders to egg shells have been, and are, used to remove impurities and to give beer its clarity. Here are some of the ingredients that are used in the brewing process that would mean that a beer cannot be classed as vegan:
- Fining agents: the process of filtering the beer to make a clearer drink, typically using fish innards or gelatine.
- Glycerine: whilst it can be made from plant oil it is also made using animal fats
- Egg whites: used to filter the impurities prior to bottling
- Casein: a milk-based ingredient which can also be used in the fining process
- Lactose or milk: sometimes used as a sweetener in beer
- Honey: sometimes used as a sweetener to counteract the bitterness
- Chocolate: flavoured beers with chocolate notes (chocolate nib is vegan)
What is isinglass and why is it used in beer?
Isinglass; a once commonly used ingredient in the brewing process, makes some beer unsuitable for vegans. If you’re a bit squeamish you may want to brace yourself… isinglass is derived from the bladders of certain tropical fish - commonly Sturgeon and is formulated by drying, macerating and dissolving the bladders in acid over several weeks in order to produce a type of collagen which is known in the brewing world as isinglass finings. The primary purpose of isinglass is to remove the cloudy yeast from beer and it’s known for doing this job particularly well and relatively cheaply. While it is less commonly used in the UK today some cask ales and small craft brewers still use it to clarify beer.
Why do some beers contain gelatine?
Many of us are aware that gelatine is used in food products such as sweets and jellies but you might be surprised to discover that gelatine can also be used as a fining agent in the brewing process. Gelatine is made by boiling the skin, bone and ligaments of animals to release a glutenous protein. This protein can then be added to the beer during the fermentation process to help clarify it.
Can beer be made vegan?
In good news, you don’t need to avoid beer if you’re vegan. Many beers today don’t use any animal derived products in the brewing process and are 100% vegan. Nowadays many brewers prefer to avoid putting additives into their brew and with the ever growing vegan and vegetarian market there has been a need to adapt to alternative plant-based options. With modern advancements in technology there are now lots of vegan friendly alternatives to animal-based finings and isinglass. Common vegan fining agents include:
- Irish moss: a type of seaweed that contains carrageenan. It is used during the boiling stage to clarify beer.
- Biofine: a vegan friendly, colloidal solution of silicic acid that speeds up the clarification of beer
With an increasing number of brewers understanding the importance of vegan beers, Barnivore has compiled an online database of over 55,000 alcoholic beverages so you can check that what you are drinking is indeed vegan.
Vegan beer at the Bier Company
Here at the Bier Company, we are proud to offer a large range of specialist vegan craft beers and beer snacks. Hand selected from award-winning UK craft breweries; you’ll find vegan beers in the most popular styles of craft beer ranging from IPAs to lagers.
Looking for a fabulous vegan craft beer gift? Look no further than the Ultimate Super Dad Beer Box. Featuring an incredible 24 vegan craft beers from 24 different craft breweries across the UK. You’ll find 7 exclusive vegan brews which have been crafted specially for the Bier Company and a fantastic selection of pale ales, IPAs and craft lagers. That’s not all! This sensational beer box also includes: 3 x Bier Snacks, 1 x limited edition super dad glass, 1 x pair of super dad socks and super dad beer mats.
At the Bier Company we are also excited to sell a delicious range of vegan craft beer snacks. Perfect for pairing with our vegan beers for the ultimate beer tasting experience. You can find out more about why we think beer and nuts are a match made in heaven in our ‘Beer and Nuts: The Perfect Combination’ guide.