In 2017, beer drinkers with a taste for mercy rejoiced in some surprising news: Guinness—the famous Irish stout—finally went vegan! Those unfamiliar with how beer is made were prompted to ask, “What does that mean? Isn’t all beer vegan?” Although beer is often vegan, this is not the case for all beer. To make its thick, creamy stout vegan, the Guinness brewery introduced a new filtration process that no longer uses isinglass, a substance derived from the swim bladders of some fish common in beer brewing.
Isinglass is an old-school solution to the challenge of clarifying beer by converting sugar to alcohol during fermentation, doing its job and giving beer its cloudy appearance, suspended in liquid. The harmless yeast eventually settles to the bottom of the barrel or keg, but brewers wanted a production shortcut, so in the 19th century many of them began adding isinglass, a fining agent that binds to yeast cells and other floating particles and sinks to the base. Brewing is just one example of why some beers don’t make the vegan cut.
What is beer?
In its purest form, beer is a fermented beverage made from water, yeast, hops, and grains, such as barley, wheat, rice, corn, or oats. Humans have been brewing and drinking beer for a very, very long time – researchers have found evidence of beer brewing in present-day Israel dating back 13,000 years. Native Americans brewed a type of beer from corn, probably for ceremonial purposes, in New Mexico about 800 years ago. Archaeologists speculate that beer may have even contributed to the formation of civilizations, since it inspired ancient farmers to settle and grow crops that they would use for feasts and other social gatherings to create sacred grains.
The alcohol content of beer varies widely, typically from 5 to 20 percent. Non-alcoholic beer is becoming more common (and better tasting), with both 0-percent and 0.5-percent alcohol marketed as non-alcoholic.
Not surprisingly, beer is the world’s third-most popular beverage after water and tea.
Types of beer
There are over a hundred types of beer, but most of them fall into two general categories: ales and lagers. Ales are fermented with top-fermenting yeast at warmer temperatures (60˚–75˚F) and have a fruity flavor profile, while lagers are fermented with bottom-fermenting yeast at cooler temperatures (35˚–55˚F) and are offered A clean, crisp taste. There is also a small category of beers called hybrids, which are made with a combination of different practices, such as fermentation with ale yeast at lager (cold) temperatures.
Among the more well-known ales are pale ales, India pale ales (IPA), stouts and wheat beers.
Popular lagers include pilsner, imperial pilsner, Mexican-style lager, Belgian-style lager, and Vienna-style lager.
The most famous hybrid beer is arguably the steam beer, one of the few beer styles born in the United States. (Since Anchor Stream trademarked “Steam Beer” in 1982, competing brewers were required to label their Steam Beers “Standard” or “California Standard” instead.)
The good news is that most beers are vegetarian. Unfortunately, some contain animal ingredients that make them unsuitable for someone who wants a vegan beer. There are about a dozen animal ingredients that may be in your favorite beer.
Animal ingredients in beer
These ingredients likely won’t appear on a label, especially when they’re used in the fining process, but here’s a list of the most common (and a few unusual) animal ingredients found in beer.
- Albumin: Used as a foaming agent, albumin is a protein derived from animal blood or eggs.
- Bone broth: Charred animal bones used in the filtration process
- Carmine: A red dye made from the cochineal beetle, carmine can be found in beers that have a pink hue.
- Casein: A milk protein used to clarify beer
- Chitin/chitosan: Chitin and its derivative chitosan are substances derived primarily from the exoskeletons of lobsters, crabs, and shrimps, although they may also come from fungi; They are used as fining agents.
- Gelatin: This fining agent is made from decomposed animal hides, boiled bones and connective tissue of cows and pigs.
- Glycerol monostearate: Another foaming agent, glycerol monostearate is usually made from animal fat, although it can also be made from plants.
- honey: An animal-derived ingredient sometimes used to flavor beer or increase its alcohol content or as a base for mead.
- Isinglass: Perhaps the most common fining agent, isinglass is a collagen made from the swim bladder, an organ used by certain tropical and subtropical fish to control their buoyancy.
- Lactose: This sugar found in milk can sweeten beer without adding alcohol, since brewing yeast cannot ferment it. It is especially found in “milk” or “cream” stouts.
- oysters: Once used as a fining agent in “oyster” stouts, oysters are now added to their flavor.
- Whee: A flavor additive made from milk
Vegan beer fining agent
While some beer makers seem to stick with isinglass and other animal-based fining agents, a growing number of brewers are using vegan alternatives to clarify their beer, such as centrifuges, bentonite clay, cold conditioning, diatomaceous earth (a type of sand made from fossilized algae). ) ), and a seaweed called Irish moss.
“To prevent cold haze, most of our brands receive a small dose of Irish moss during the boil process in the brewhouse, which helps to quickly extract the haze-causing proteins from the malt,” Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s Ashley Mooneyhan told VegNews. “Additionally, our process typically includes extensive chill time below 30°F, followed by a quick spin through a centrifuge prior to packaging to remove residual material that would contribute to clarity issues. Some beers come into contact with an absorbent polymer to achieve even higher clarity. Also clarified by passing through a filter.”
Some brewers have gone truly traditional and have chosen to store their beer for long periods of time, allowing yeast and other particles to settle naturally. This is a process called “long lasering” from the German word to accumulatemeans “to save.”
How to tell if a beer is vegetarian or not
Brewers make their beer decisions to create a palatable product, not necessarily to appeal to vegans, so they rarely label or market their beers as vegan-friendly or not. This may change as more food and beverage companies recognize the demand for vegan products, but in the meantime, it makes finding vegan beers a bit of a challenge.
Currently, the easiest way to identify vegan beers is to check out the Barnivore website, an online directory that uses crowdsourcing to identify and rate the vegan-friendliness of over 55,000 adult beverages.
You can also download BevVeg, a free mobile app run by an international legal organization that certifies vegan beer, wine, liquor and other products. They reportedly have over a million drinks listed in their database.
Another – and perhaps the best – option is to contact the brewer directly and ask them if a particular beer uses any animal ingredients in its production. This will provide the most up-to-date answers and it will remind the company that the demand for vegan products is increasing.
Here at VegNews, we make it our job to stay on top of new products, must-try desserts, must-have items. And as important as it is to know what those new items are, we want to share them with you, so you can be the most current informed customer out there. That’s why we present to you the VegNews Guide, a series of lists dedicated to vegans’ favorite things—beer included. Below is an up-to-date, ever-expanding roster of vegan beers offered nationwide.