Many people, vegan or not, are surprised to discover that there is a plethora of animal-based products that can be found in alcoholic beverages.
Also see: Is Your Champagne Vegan?
Wondering what these unappetizing byproducts are doing in your drink? Most are used for “fining”* or coloring, although there are plenty of vegan options for filtering and coloring out there. The main culprits making it into our drinks today are: Isinglass, carmine, gelatin, egg whites, seashells, honey, milk, casein, and even blood.
Naturally, you already know what milk and honey are, but before I move on to how to find byproduct-free alcohol, let’s clarify what a couple of these other fining agents are.
*Fining is the process by which alcohol is filtered or “refined” during brewing.
Glossary of animal-based fining agents:
Isinglass: Isinglass is the reason that your favorite bartender should be asking if you want a slice of orange or a bit of fish bladder in your Sangria. It is a form of collagen prepared from the swim bladders of fish.
Gelatin: We’re all familiar with this “harmless” sounding ingredient that’s used in candy, Jello and other such products. But did you know that gelatin is an animal protein derived from the skin and connective tissue of pigs and cows?
Carmine: When you find out what carmine is, a glass of Campari and lime may make your skin start to crawl. That’s because carmine is derived from the bodies of dried cochineal beetles, and is used to color Campari and many other beverages. Carmine is also called Cochineal, Cochineal Extract, Crimson Lake, Natural Red 4, C.I. 75470, E120, and Carminic Acid.
Casein: Casein is a protein derived from milk. This substance is also used in cosmetics, hair products, beauty masks, some pharmaceuticals and foods, although they may be marked “dairy free.”
A note about blood as a fining agent: Thankfully, the use of blood as a fining and coloring agent has been outlawed in the United States and France, but you may still find this used in some Mediterranean countries.
It is also worth noting that some alcohol – liqueurs in particular – may have non-vegan sugar added at the final stage of preparation. Non- vegan sugar is filtered through bone char.
So… Wondering what you can drink without imbibing animal products? As a general rule of thumb, spirits are most likely to be vegan, followed by beer and cider, with wine coming up last for cleanliness. There are no absolutes though when it comes to alcohol, so unless the company specifies that they are vegan or you’ve contacted the company yourself, it’s probably best not to risk it. Thankfully, you’re not alone in your search, as there are rather long lists available online at The Vegan Wine Guide and Barnivore.com to get your search started.
It is important to be aware though that the questionnaire Barnivore asks contributors to send companies before submitting their vegan listing does not specifically cover the addition of non-vegan sugar. Hopefully, the Barnivore questionnaire will soon start to cover this concern as well.
This online list was/is only made possible because vegans and conscious consumers out there have written to companies inquiring about the contents of their products and then submitted the answers from said companies back to Barnivore. So if you have a favorite brew or Bordeaux, it’s worth checking on the list. If the beverage you’re looking for isn’t on the list at all, it’s worth writing to the company and sending your response back to Barnivore (check on the next page to see how to do this). Most companies are used to these inquiries nowadays and it’s much better to be safe than sorry when it comes to blood and tendons making it into your drink. Contacting companies about the non-vegan contents of their products does more than help you decide what to purchase and imbibe. It also shows the company that this is a growing concern and encourages them to seek vegan alternatives.
Below is the simple process Barnivore contributors go through before submitting a new listing to the website. This questionnaire can be found on the Barnivore site in a number of different languages as well. As we said earlier though, it is important to go a bit deeper than this questionnaire, specifying any concerns about animal products not only being added during processing, but also to the raw ingredients being used.
Don’t let the legwork deter you; it’s pretty simple and fast once you get down to it.
“Barnivore relies on input from readers like you to check (and double check!) with your favourite drink makers to see what’s in their products.
Please use email to contact companies. We know Twitter’s cool, but it doesn’t archive the same way and we’ve found that 140 characters isn’t enough to get a reliable answer. If a company isn’t responding to mail, tweet to tell them to check it, but we won’t accept Tweets as official answers at this time.
Checking with a company is simple. All you need to do is send them an email with one of our standard questions (see below) and forward us the response so we can add it to the list and help the rest of the world enjoy vegan drinks!
If you get a response that isn’t awesome, please (politely!) let them know how you feel! We’ve got a sample response you can use (English only for now, hint hint…) here.
Along with your submission, be sure to include the Company’s name, mailing address, email and phone number so we can make your update faster. Seriously, finding that stuff sometimes takes longer than emailing the company in the first place, and we get a lot of submissions, so this will really help us out! If you are submitting a “double check” to a company that already exists on Barnivore, then don’t worry about it!
Hi, I’m helping to update an online directory of vegan-friendly alcohol, and I was hoping you could provide some information about [BRAND NAME].
Does [BRAND NAME] contain any animal ingredients (such as milk, eggs, honey, etc) or are animal products used in the processing/filtration of the product (such as isinglass, gelatin, etc)?
Also, is your product manufactured anywhere else in the world (by a sub-licensee, for instance) that might use a different processing system? *
*I would suggest inserting this line into your email [Does the product use refined sugar that may have been processed using bone char?]
I hope this helps your piece of mind as you enjoy a vegan friendly beverage and encourages you to dig a bit deeper when it comes to both your food and drink – Salute!