Whether you’re new to veganism or a plant-based veteran, there will always be types of food and drink that you’re unsure about in regards to being vegan-friendly. Booze, for example. So, is alcohol vegan?
Although you may be quick to assume that there is no need for vegan alcohol because all alcohol must be vegan, right? The reality is that some wine and beer companies use animal products for thinning agents, such as egg whites, gelatine, skimmed milk, and even fish bladders (I know, grim).
In this post, I’ll answer the question ‘can vegans drink alcohol?’ with a quick yet comprehensive guide to vegan-friendly booze options and what types of alcohol you should avoid.
Is Alcohol Vegan?
So yeah, it’s not necessarily a case of ‘is alcohol vegan?’ but more of a ‘which alcohol brands are vegan?’. But as a vegan, you will be no stranger to doubling down on your research and checking religiously nutritional information to make sure that you aren’t consuming animal products.
The great news is that many leading and upcoming alcohol companies are doing their utmost to produce high-quality, delicious drinks without the need to use animal products during the production process. However, there will always be companies who attempt to create fantastic, unique flavours which require a little extra help from thinning agents and other ingredients — which more often than not are from animals.
All wines are not considered to be vegan or even vegetarian-friendly because of how the wine is clarified and a process called ‘fining’, which is a process that removes haze-inducing molecules. All young wines contain tiny molecules such as proteins, tartrates and phenolics. All of which are natural, and not at all harmful. However, wine-drinkers do love their wine to look as clear and bright as possible!
Wine producers use a variety of ‘fining agents’ to help the process along. Essentially, a fining agent acts like a magnet that attracts the molecules around it. By coagulating around the fining agent, it creates fewer but larger particles, which can then be removed easily.
Traditionally, the most common fining agents were casein (a milk protein), gelatin (animal protein), albumin (egg whites) and isinglass (fish bladder protein). These are known as ‘processing aids’ and are not additives for the wine, as they are removed along with the ‘haze’ molecules. While the use of casein and albumin are acceptable to (most) vegetarians, they are a strict no-no for vegans as there is the possibility of these fining agents being absorbed into the finished wine.
So can vegans drink alcohol? Here are some good news. Many modern winemakers use bentonite and other clay-based fining agents, as they have proved to be a very efficient way of removing unwanted proteins. Activated charcoal is another vegan-friendly agent that is also used.
As well as this, the popularisation of more natural winemaking methods means more vegan and vegetarian-friendly wines. As more wine producers around the world decide not to fine or filter their wines, leaving them to self-clarify and self-stabilise, it opens the door for a more recognisably vegan-friendly wine market. Such wines usually state on the label that they are ‘not fined or not filtered’.
Here’s a list of vegan wines.
Is Beer Vegan?
In short, some beer is vegan, and others are most definitely not. Much like wine, many beer companies rely on thinning agents such as egg whites, gelatine, and fish bladders to remove unwanted molecules from their beers, whether it’s ale or lager. So, as you can imagine, this poses somewhat of a problem to all the vegans out there who just want a cold beer after a hard day at work but don’t want to abandon their beliefs.
The four key ingredients of beer are water, yeast, hops and a grain such as barley or wheat. As the yeast ferments, it digests the sugar from the grain to produce alcohol! Voila, you have yourself a boozy beverage! As you can see, all of these ingredients are natural and therefore 100% suitable for vegans. Unfortunately, many breweries use non-vegan ingredients to add flavour and colour or to clarify their products. Not only this, but the craft beer industry is creating unique flavours using ingredients such as honey (more on the debate whether or not honey is vegan), chocolate and even bacon… the mind boggles. So it’s essential to do your homework a bit before you try a new beer.
The beer industry is a powerhouse in the alcohol world, which means that it’s good business to cater to the needs of everyone, which includes veganism. Therefore, there are many big-name brands as well as breweries on the rise that forego the use of thinning agents and non-vegan/vegetarian flavour variants. In fact, most commercial beers from well-known breweries are now vegan-friendly. These include:
- Budweiser and Bud Light
- Coors and Coors Light
- Corona Extra and Corona Light
- Michelob Ultra
- Miller Genuine Draft and Miller High Life
- Pabst Blue Ribbon
- Guinness Draught and Guinness Original XX
Of course, this is just a small amount of vegan beers available today, but I didn’t want to keep you here all day reading a long, long list. A quick search online will provide you with more than enough choices to ensure that you have all the vegan-friendly beer you could hope for. Like this list of the Top 10 Vegan Beers, for example.
Spirits or ‘Hard Liquor’ – Is alcohol vegan?
If you’re someone who prefers spirits such as whiskey, vodka, tequila, gin and rum — whether it’s neat, on the rocks or with a mixer — you’re in luck! Pretty much every distilled spirit, apart from a few (which I’ll mention in a minute) are 100% vegan alcohol. Unlike wine and beer, a process called distillation is used for spirits, in which the alcohol is concentrated from fermented ingredients. So that means no fining or thinning agents to speak of, but that doesn’t mean every spirit you can get your hands on is going to be vegan-friendly.
It gets a little bit tricky when it comes to flavoured spirits, many of which rely on honey to provide a more desirable, easy-to-drink alternative to their flagship bottlings. And in most cases, brands tend to look to honey as an ideal ingredient to make their flavoured spirits appeal to the masses. It’s for this reason that you still have to maintain some awareness when you next grab a bottle of your favourite spirit from the shelf. It also depends on the manufacturer, because while the leading brands may not adopt non-vegan production methods, there may well be others who are striving to achieve flavours or other characteristics that require additional ingredients and agents. Typically ingredients added to flavoured spirits include milk, creme and honey.
So, what about cocktails? Can vegans drink alcohol?
That’s a good question and definitely the most difficult to provide a definitive answer for. Although the ingredients of classic cocktails remain consistent, and in some cases, they don’t at all, new cocktails are being created and experimented with every day, by bartenders all over the world. If you are a vegan with a taste for cocktails, your best bet is to always ask the bartender who will be making it. They will know exactly what is going into your drink, so who better to highlight any potential non-vegan variables.
Sometimes you may be lucky enough to stumble upon a bar or restaurant that is particularly vigilant with their labelling of vegan and vegetarian food and drink, but as you know, it’s not always the case. So the best rule to live by when it comes to cocktails — always ask!
Making cocktails at home? Try these vegan recipes!