Grain, hops, yeast, water. Those are the basic components of beer, which are all vegan. That means beer is naturally vegan, right? Well, it’s not as simple as that. A straightforward brewski is one thing, but sometimes beer contains extra components, like fruit, spices, and other ingredients that add another dimension of flavor in the end product. And some flavoring agents of choice aren’t always vegan.
Because honey (buzz, buzz) is made by insects, it’s technically not vegan. But it’s used as a sweetener in some beers, and it adds a delicate floral note to the end product.
Ever tried an oyster stout? They’re called that because there are actual oysters involved in the brewing process. Oyster stouts are dark, semi-sweet, and rich, which means they’re a good sipper. Beer, wine, and spirit culture website VinePair explains that oyster stouts use either the shells of the mollusk or the entire corpus of the creature, depending on the situation.
If a brewer is using just the shell, it’s because they are using it as a natural way to clarify the beer. The shells themselves don’t impart much noticeable flavor, if at all. If a brewer’s looking to add a slight salinity or brininess to the finished product, they’ll occasionally use an entire oyster, body and all.
Isinglass is an ingredient that can be used to clarify beer. And it’s of all things, a fish bladder product, primarily composed of collagen. Isinglass is added to beer for clarification purposes, as it manages to capture yeast and beer proteins and sink to the bottom of the brew, making the end product clearer. It’s used in cask ales, but modern brewing equipment now makes it possible for many brewers to clarify beer by different methods without resorting to fish bladders.
Milk sugar, aka lactose
Lactose is a sugar from milk, and milk is from cows, so lactose is not vegan. It’s used as a beer additive because it adds a creamy and slightly sweet flavor to the end product. Yeast doesn’t produce the enzyme needed to break lactose down, so it remains in beer after the brewing process is complete.
How to tell if a beer is vegan or not
Unfortunately, this isn’t easy. The best way to find out for sure is by contacting the brewery itself, which is admittedly not the easiest way if you’re browsing beer at the store, though some labels may actually say whether or not they’re vegan.
For those of you vegan beer drinkers, PETA has a running list of beers that don’t use animal products. There’s a lot of them, so it’s likely you’ll find something on there that will suit you. But if you want a wider resource to locate a vegan alcohol product, a site called Barnivore might be your best bet.
Barnivore is a database of beer, wine, and liquor products that are all vegan, containing over 56,600 entries. All you have to do is search for a particular item and see if it’s in the database, which should be more handy if you need something on the spot. No fish bladders necessary.