Eating vegan isn’t easy. Challenges like managing a healthy diet and dealing with society’s general rudeness towards vegans are enough to make anyone reach for a bottle of beer at the end of the day. There’s nothing about being a vegan that says you can’t relax and have a drink after a tough day, but what you might not know is that the cold one in your hand might not actually vegan at all.
It’s hard to see how alcoholic drinks couldn’t be vegan. Pretty much every popular drink uses a grain or fruit along with water as its basic ingredients. Sure there are some obviously non-vegan drinks like a Bloody Mary with a bacon garnish, but it seems crazy to think that your average can of beer or bottle of wine has ever been near an animal product.
Unfortunately, like many foods these days, alcoholic drinks are made using processes that are anything but traditional and aren’t always transparent about the ingredients and techniques used. To help you relax when it comes to your beverage of choice, let’s dive into some of the animal products used in alcohol production, what to watch out for, and how to make sure that your drinks are 100 percent vegan.
Animal Products in Beer
Historically, beer has been made with four basic ingredients: barley, hops, water, and yeast. The traditional method for making beer involves letting the barley ferment. Over time, sugars are released from the barley and converted into alcohol and carbonation by the yeast. Traditional beer made in this manner is unequivocally vegan.
However, there is enormous pressure on modern breweries to turn out a product that is identical batch over batch with as few hiccups as possible. For these reasons, some breweries are adopting techniques and ingredients that strip their beer of its vegan status. One such technique is called “fining,” a process used to remove excess yeast from the beer before bottling it. Although there are fining techniques that are completely vegan-friendly, not all breweries will use them. Instead, they will filter their beer using gelatin or isinglass. Isinglass is the dried swim bladder of a fish — this kills the fish.
Although these animal products don’t end up in the final product, they are still used in the production process, making such beers non-vegan.
Some beers will also boast infused flavorings such as chocolate or coffee. A small number of these beers aim for flavors like bacon. Beware that the bacon flavor in this drink is not achieved through artificial means — actual bacon is used in the infusing process. Bacon is obviously not vegan.
Animal Products in Wine
Wine is another beverage that should be so vegan is hurts. Surprisingly, however, not every wine is vegan; some are made using animal products. Wine is usually made using vegan-friendly ingredients like grapes, water, and yeast. The sugar from the grapes is converted into alcohol by yeast. Sometimes flavor is added by aging wines in oak barrels.
However — again like beer — wineries are typically not happy to leave yeast in the final bottle. Once again, while there are vegan-friendly techniques for filtering wine, some wineries choose to use animal products instead, making their wines unfit for anyone who wants to stick to a vegan diet.
Animal Products in Liquor
Most liquors — whiskey, rum, vodka, and so on — are vegan these days. However, that are still a few things to watch out for when it comes to liquor.
- Beware of liquor products that are infused with honey. Certain bourbons, vodkas, and rums are among the biggest culprits and they should include “honey” somewhere in the name.
- Watch out for cocktails that are made with animal products. Some cocktails, such as the famous whiskey sour, are sometimes made with the white of an egg. The egg white can add texture and foaminess to the drink, but it is obviously not vegan. Chickpea brine is a good vegan alternative if you like foamy drinks.
- White sugar, which is used in some cocktails, may be bleached with animal bones. It goes without saying that this is bad for the animal!
Non-vegan products can crop up in the most unexpected places. While some alcoholic drinks may use animal products in their production, it is definitely possible to find vegan-friendly booze. Watch what you drink carefully and, if you are ever in doubt, contact producers and ask them directly if they use animal products in their drinks.
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