You wouldn’t think it was something to be concerned about. At first glance beer seems to pass the vegan test without much dispute. Beer in its purest form is made from water, malt, hops, and yeast. Depending on the brand and type, other ingredients find their way in giving you a fruit beer, or a cream ale, and giving you that distinct color and taste of a red compared to a blonde.
Further down the process line, past the main cooking tanks, beer often becomes a vegan faux-pas. Many breweries use animal products in the brewing process. Their most common use is as clarifying agents, but animal parts are also used for head retention, flavor, and coloring. Because there is no law requiring disclosure of non-vegan ingredients, beer labels rarely mention their use. Some animal products are the main ingredients in a beer and are easy to spot. These are usually indicated on the label and can easily be avoided. Honey is a common example. You can also just assume that anything using the word cream has a milk product of some sort in it. The animal products used in smaller proportions that don’t make it to the labels are those that you need to be aware of.
When I first discovered that beer had the potential to not be vegan, my initial thought was, “BUT I F**KING LOVE BEER!” …followed by “I wonder how many other vegans don’t know this???” and topped off with a fantastic idea… “This calls for a Vegan Beer drink off! Eff Yeah!” I think many people just assume that beer is vegan, as it is traditionally made with such clean, pure ingredients. I feel that there are many products like beer that we don’t feel the need to worry about, because we are so busy worrying about other things. In order to keep your life ( and mine) as simple as possible I have decided to do two things: a) taste test as many vegan beers as possible in order to tell you which ones I think will rock your socks off, and b) give you the tools and knowledge to make your own educated decisions.
Naturally, I called my dear friend Cory, and of course T– and we made it happen. It involved 8 different types of beer, a handwritten chart, a pizza break, and a lot of serious conversations involving terms like hops, fizziness and “…it’s coming out my nose!” It’s a hard job but someone’s gotta do it!
Top 5 Vegan Beers (Thus Far):
1. Erdinger Weissbier
Taste: Smooth wheat beer, full of flavour with citrus undertones. Great for sipping and pairing with summer inspired meals aka: BBQ-ing. It is brewed using fine yeast according to a traditional recipe a in strict accordance with the Bavarian Purity Law.
2. Mill St. Organic
Light, crisp refreshing flavour. We found Mill st. to be great, reliable summer beer that goes down like water. Ontario’s first certified organic lager! Oh Canada!
Halfway through , we both decided that it was absolutely unacceptable to drink beer without pizza. And so, we called Magic Oven… and ordered the most epic $45 vegan, spelt pizza… and ate the whole damn thing… BUT we weren’t full yet, as we had more beer to taste test!
A barley, malt smell with little hop presence. Nice rice taste with good balance; has a good aftertaste and is very refreshing. Kanpai!
4. Muskoka Dark
Tastes like chocolate! Thin, dark beer with a slight bitter taste, combined with caramel and a faint hint of coffee. We like this as a light alternative to Guiness.
5. Creemore Springs
Not overly sweet and not overly bitter. We found the citrus to be a bit more present in the taste than expected. This beer is great for sipping after a long workday.
Here is a list of the most common animal products that are used in brewing:
Isinglass – Clarifier that is very common in brewing. Comes from the dried swim bladders of fish. Almost all cask conditioned ale uses isinglass as a clarifier, although it is more common in England than the U.S.
Gelatin – Clarifier obtained from the skin, connective tissue, and bones of animals. Typically taken from cattle and frozen pigskin.
Casein/Potassium Caseinate – Protein found in cow milk used as a clarifier.
Charcoal – Used for filtering. A portion is usually produced from animal bones.
Diatomaceous earth – Used in filtering. Comes from fossils or sea shells.
Insects – Made into dyes and used for coloring.
Glyceryl monostearate – Animal derived substance used to control foam.
Pepsin – Also used to control foam; it is sometimes derived from pork.
White sugar – Flavor additive often whitened using bone charcoal.
Albium – Refers to any protein that is water soluble. Most common type in brewing is serum albumin, which is taken from animal blood.
Lactose – Beers labeled as sweet, milk, or cream stouts may or may not contain lactose. Sometimes the description refers to the texture and not the ingredient. It’s best to double check these to be sure. Milk chocolate is common in certain styles, but some so-called “chocolate” porters or stouts actually contain no real chocolate at all. Some malted barley is called “chocolate malt” simply to describe the flavor the roasting imparts.
I try to keep my videos short and informative, but we’ve got lots more footage of Stephen’s excellent advice, if you’d like to see more, let me know. He also taught me that if you think you would like the creamy taste of a milk stout you can get the creaminess by trying an oatmeal stout. Interesting advice, and something I am totally going to try.
Beer Related Articles on My Blog:
I don’t always get to thank everyone that helps me create these posts for you guys, so I wanted to make sure that I give a special thanks to:
Stephen Rich. Brewer, Cicerone, Prud’homme
3030 Dundas West
Mill Street Brewery