To put it simply, most beers are considered vegan.
However, some breweries do use animal products. While those products are not directly included in the recipe, they are used through the purification stages of making beer. This is not only applicable for beers. Other alcoholic beverages such as wine, or champagne are also susceptible to those animal-based ingredients.
This blog post (and guide) aims to go into a fair amount of detail to explain to you the process of making beer and show you exactly what sets non-vegan and vegan beers apart.
What I’m also going to show you is a list of vegan beers, preferably beers you can buy from a local grocery store. If you’re all about beer, please give this blog post a quick read.
How is Beer Even Made?
Quite honestly, we all know what beer is. But even the “most experienced” tipplers don’t know how beer is made. Though, the same goes for every other food or beverage.
Brewing beer is an 8-step process that begins with milling the grains. Global brewing company SABMiller has released an informative video that breaks down the brewing process into an easy, simple to understand fashion. A 3-minute video that explains such a convoluted process.
Below this video, I’m going to highlight the main steps of the brewing process.
1 – Milling the grains
At this beginning stage, the different types of malt are crushed to extract the fermentable sugar which produces a milled product called grist. Before this happens, and the rootlets are separated from the malt, the leftovers are sold to provide feed for cattle.
2 – Mash conversion
The grist goes into a mash tun, where it’s blended with heated water. This process uses the natural enzymes in the malt to break down the malt’s starch into sugars.
3 – Lautering
Next, the grist goes into the lauter tun, where the wort (a sweet liquid) is separated from the undissolved part of the grain.
4 – Boiling
The wort then goes into a boiling tank (or kettle), where it boils at a controlled temperature before the hops are added. This process sterilizes the wort, kills enzymes, coagulates proteins and forms flavor compounds from the hops that are added.
5 – Hop separation and cooling
After boiling, the wort goes into a whirlpool where it’s separated. At this stage, any malt or hop particles are removed to leave a liquid that is ready to be cooled and fermented.
6 – Fermentation
To jumpstart the fermentation process, yeast is added to the mix. It converts the sugary wort into beer by producing alcohol, different flavors, and carbon dioxide. Fermentation typically lasts from 7 to 10 days, or even more.
7 – Maturation (Not applicable to all beers)
After it is fermented, the beer is stabilized and matured to fully develop the flavor. Though not all beers go through this process, and many skip it and go into the next step.
8 – Filtration, carbonation, and cellaring
After reaching its potential, the beer is either pasteurized or filtered before being bottled. In the meantime, the beer is transferred into a stainless steel tank, where it goes through a cellaring process that takes roughly 3-4 weeks to complete.
The packaging is done in bottles, cans, or barrels. When put into bottles, the beer also goes through a carbonization process.
Why Beer May Not Be Vegan.
Some beers go through a fining stage that serves to remove unwanted elements in a beer that usually affect appearance and taste. This is done while the beer is still in the cellar.
It’s part of the clarification and stabilization process and it typically means breweries add fining agents to beer, which will flush out certain elements that may have added some haziness which might damage the beer.
For instance, after fermentation, yeast can remain suspended indefinitely. Leaving what’s called a yeast haze. To counteract this, a fining agent can be used to remove that yeast permanently, clearing up the beer. Now, not every brewer likes to use fining agents, because they believe this process deprives the beer of gaining its natural flavor and texture.
There are different fining agents, most of which use animal-derived products, such as isinglass and gelatin. This is especially troublesome because most (if not all) beers are not advertised as being vegan or non-vegan. Therefore, if you don’t search for the information, you won’t know whether the beer your drinking is vegan or not. In addition to that, some beers may also contain honey or milk — although that is much less common.
Fining With Isinglass
Unfortunately, isinglass is extracted from the bladders of sturgeons. It’s rich in collagen, which binds to yeast cells, allowing them to become sizeable enough to filter out. Most of the isinglass is sold in powder form and dissolved in water before being mixed with the beer.
This is still a pretty common practice in some breweries, even though there’s an added attention ever since veganism has grown the last 5-10 years.
Fining With Gelatin
Some breweries also rely on gelatin to clear up their beers.
That’s because gelatin is effective in reducing proteins and polyphenols, which are derived from the malt and hops in the beer. These are generally responsible for causing the haze-effect in beers, whereas the gelatin is used to clear the beer.
Just like the isinglass powder, the gelatin powder is also mixed with water and added to the beer to clear out the haze. Other than isinglass and gelatin, I didn’t find any information regarding the use of casein and egg whites in beer. Although, it’s already too much if you ask me.
This being said, not all fining agents used in beer are animal-derived. Other additives such as Irish Moss and Whirfloc Tablets are removed protein haze. Both of which are derived from seaweed.
Some Beers May Also Have Natural Flavors & Colors.
I’m not speaking for the majority, for example, Heineken doesn’t seem to have any artificial anything. However, one of the most popular beers in the world is Guinness, and among the list of ingredients, there are natural flavors and colors.
If you’ve been a vegan for a while, you’re probably aware that although it’s not common, there are natural flavors of animal origin.
According to the US FDA’s Code of Federal Regulations, natural flavors are created from substances extracted from the following animal and plant sources:
- Fruit or fruit juice
- Vegetables or vegetable juice
- Edible yeast, herbs, bark, buds, root leaves or plant material
- Meat, poultry or seafood
- Dairy products, including fermented products
In fact, a common non-vegan flavor is “Castoreum” — a slightly sweet substance extracted from the anal secretions of beavers. If you see a beer with a “Natural” flavor in it, I’d suggest you contact the brewery to question their ingredients.
Even though most of the flavors used are probably plant-based.
Artificial colors have a long history of animal abuse (testing).
Within animal testing, the goal is to find out whether or not a certain substance (color) is safe to use. Some argue that is a necessary evil to ensure we’re able to eat and drink most foods…
…But at the end of the day, animal lives are trifled with, and sometimes discarded after use.
Frankly, I typically stick to foods without added colors, yet I sporadically drink a beverage that contains yellow #5 or red #40, all of which are periodically tested on animals.
Technically, these ingredients aren’t animal-based, but they’re tied to animal suffering.
While I make a conscious effort to avoid those ingredients, that doesn’t happen always.
I’ve noticed this subject has a lot of mixed opinions, but I know that as long as I avoid meat, eggs, dairy, and honey, I won’t feel any less vegan for drinking a beverage.
How To Know If A Beer Is Vegan?
This is the tricky part because regardless of a beer being vegan, there’s not enough information on any beer label to attain a definite answer. Yes, you will know if the beer you’re drinking contains natural flavors or artificial colors.
However, you won’t know if fining agents like gelatin and isinglass were used in the clarifying stages of brewing. Without the internet, you would have to reach out to the companies to have that information, but with an internet connection, you have people that can do it for you
One amazing company that does it for you without charging a penny is Barnivore.
They contact companies through email, asking them whether their beers are vegan or not. As you can see on the page above, they’ve received an answer from Abbey Ales: “Sorry but we do use isinglass”.
Also keep in mind that beer and wine procedures are formless, and probably do not remain the same in a span of 10 years. In the example above, the email they received was 8 years old — so you won’t know if Abbey Ales changed their ways unless you contact them.
What Beers Are Vegan?
The list of beers is endless. If you visit the Barnivore website, you’ll note that there are way too many beers! Most of which are actually vegan.
Here is a list of vegan beers just in case you’re thinking about going to the supermarket:
This is a low-calorie and low-carb beer and it generally appeals to a public that prefers a light, clean flavor, and the ease with each they can drink without getting drunk.
Miller Lite is another light, clean beer. It is advertised as the “original lite beer”, but that isn’t the case. Low-calorie beers were invented by a chemist from the Rheingold Brewing Company in 1967 until that company was bought by Miller in 1972.
This is yet another light brew of choice for low-carb drinkers. With only 2.6 grams of carbohydrates per 12-ounce bottle, it makes it the fifth lowest in the market. But being low-carb does not make it a great beer— because believe it or not, it’s among the most profitable beer brands in America.
This is American’s favorite Mexican beer and is now the number-one selling imported beer in the United States. Corona was first brewed in 1925 but it only got distributed across the U.S in 1981. You drop a lime in a glass of Corona and you’re good to relax.
Budweiser is the best-selling beer in America that doesn’t have a “light” added to the name. It’s brewed following a process called kraeusening, which means it’s carbonated with actively fermented beer. This process apparently helps remove odd flavors and shorten carbonation time. And yes, this is a method with German origins.
Heineken is brewed in the Netherlands for more than 150 years. This is probably one of the most recognizable, as well as popular beer brands in the world. According to Barnivore, Heineken is vegan all across the board, in every country where it’s sold.
Verdict: Most Beers Are Vegan.
Indeed, most beers are vegan. However, you have certain beers that may have been filtered with animal-based ingredients such as isinglass and gelatin. Some beers may also contain artificial colors, and honey — stuff that most vegans are heavily against.
This being said, you can easily discover which beers are vegan, and which ones are not.
You can do this by either:
- Contacting the brewing company;
- Or visiting Barnivore.com and check if they have the beer you’re looking for on their list.
Most of the beers are recently updated (especially the most popular beer brands), but there are also cases where the beer status hasn’t been updated for more than 5 years. In case of doubt, you might want to contact the company.
Plus, they have wines and liquours within their database, so you should be able to find pretty much every alcoholic beverage in there. I mean, I could find Sagres and Super Bock, which are Portuguese beer brands. I wasn’t expecting to find such a huge database of alcoholic beverages.