It’s obvious that the vegan movement is continually growing, in part thanks to the awareness of the growing climate crisis, the increasing health-consciousness of the general public, and widespread concern over animal welfare.
Still, the movement is often met with scrutiny by non-vegans. Even within the community, so-called “vegan police” can turn away the veg-curious by sparking debates on vegan perfectionism. For people transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle, they may often swell with pride to share the fruit and vegetable-filled meals they are now consuming only to be met with scorn:
"But you still wear leather"
"Your makeup was tested on animals"
“You own silk sheets”
“You still drink beer”
Even for someone who has been vegan for many years, it can be tricky to keep thorough track of your buying habits to ensure that you avoid all animal products without fail. Veganism is defined as a lifestyle free of both food and non-food items that contain animal-based products or by-products.
However, a somewhat forgiving, and potentially more realistic view comes from an anonymous quote that says:
"Vegan is not about being perfect. It is about doing the least harm and the most good".
So where does beer fit in? Are there animal by-products hiding inside that you should be aware of?
Is Beer Vegan-Friendly?
Animal products have somehow found their way into just about every corner of human consumerism. Animal by-products can be found in glues used in synthetic shoes and bags, a mixture of wool and silk might be hidden away in your favourite cardigan, some car seats or accessories have leather parts, and beauty products that are labelled as cruelty-free often still have been tested on animals.
A lesser-known (and perhaps less considered) hiding spot for animal products is in the alcohol we drink. It might be shocking, but it’s true!
The majority of wine is actually not vegan, and unfortunately, neither are some types of beer. So whether you are here to adhere to the strictest interpretation of the vegan lifestyle, wish to decrease your harm towards animals even more, or simply are disgusted by the thought of animal products in your favourite beverage, you’ll need to be able to know how to tell if your beer is vegan.
Non-Vegan Beer Ingredients
While some beers clearly advertise their ingredients to show they are not vegan, such as honey beers, others are not always so obvious. Honey beers are brewed with honey, and despite honey being a contested topic on many vegan pages, the toil of bees associated with creating their own food being utilized by humans is generally agreed to not be vegan.
There are other examples of beer which include the words “cream” and “oyster” right there on the label, yet if you were to carefully scrutinize their contents, you would see that no cow or oyster was harmed to create the brew. Other beers have innocent names yet depend on animal products to create their unique tastes.
Just like with the almost automatic reach, turn, and read of the label that most vegans are now extremely familiar with in any supermarket scene, a beer label will typically have the ingredients clearly listed. The ingredients will show you if any animal products were used directly in the beer. Now, with the vegan movement growing, there is even a chance to see the little green tick of vegan approval on many bottles.
The not so obvious vegan and non-vegan beers are, however, distinguished by their finings. Finings are ingredients added to a beer near the end of the brewing process that are used to improve clarity or adjust the aroma. These ingredients are also in wine and some non-alcoholic juice beverages.
Traditional beer finings, which are used to clarify beer, often include gelatin and isinglass. Both of these ingredients are animal by-products, meaning the beers that use them are non-vegan friendly. Other animal-based ingredients in beer that may appear include casein, insects, glyceryl, pepsin, or albumin.
With the modernisation of beer-brewing techniques, there are few traditional brewers left that use animal-based finings. Modern filtration equipment depends on easier-to-store adjuncts which provide similar, if not better results.
Unfortunately, the majority of winemakers still depend on eggshells and gelatin during their winemaking process, making wine a less vegan option altogether.
Either way, the trouble with finings is that since they fall out of the beer (or other beverage) during the brewing process and aren't considered “ingredients,” they are frequently not included on labels. While to most individuals this would not matter, for vegans who wish to eliminate any animal footprint from their diet, even animal products used earlier in the brewing process make a beer non-vegan.
How to Find a Vegan Beer
Luckily, vegans have come together to create an extensive list of vegan-friendly alcohol beverages through the creation of Barnivore.com. PETA is another organisation that has a list of vegan-friendly breweries and beers that you can use to inform your drinking choices.
Unfortunately, since the brewing community and process is so fluid and continually changing, if you are truly concerned about potential animal by-products in your drinks, it may be better to call the brewery directly and ask.
As a general rule of thumb, you are looking for beers that do not use animal ingredients, additives, or processing agents. Most brewery websites will have this information listed, and all you need to do is open your laptop and click around a bit to find the information.
Am I Vegan if I Drink Non-Vegan Beer?
To be a perfect vegan is just about impossible, since everything we do on this planet will have some form of negative impact on another creature’s life, whether that is the pesticides used to grow your fruits, vegetables, and the hops in your favorite vegan beer, or even the little ant that you unwittingly squish on your way to volunteer at an animal shelter.
Veganism is a movement about love and compassion, with these feelings extended not only to our animal friends, but also to each other. If you are doing everything in your power to eliminate animal products from your lifestyle, then you should proudly consider yourself a vegan.
If you do want to take that extra step when it comes to beer, simply grab your phone or computer and do a quick search on Barnivore to see whether your chosen beverage is vegan. You might even discover some new brews and craft beers that you enjoy and can expand your beer tasting pallet!