We all know the obvious foods to avoid on a vegan diet such as meat and dairy, but have you ever wondered is beer vegan? You might be surprised to learn that despite seemingly being free of animal products, not all beer is vegan. Here's why...
Sadly, not all beer is made equal, but thankfully, there’s a high chance your favourite tipple is cruelty-free.
For many people, cracking open a can of beer at the end of a long day is a favourite way to unwind. However, you might be shocked to learn that some beer isn’t suitable for vegans.
As a rule, the main ingredients used to make beer are water, hops (the flowers of the hop plant, humulus lupulus), yeast and grain (usually barley, but sometimes wheat, rice, millet or corn). So far, so vegan – hurrah!
However, some breweries may add further ingredients – or use manufacturing processes – that make the end product unsuitable for vegans.
When and why is beer not vegan?
Managed to get hold of an ingredients list that suggests your beer is cruelty-free and fine to drink? Hold your horses – before you take a refreshing sip, it’s essential you find out how your beer was made.
There are many stages in the beer brewing process, but filtration plays a key part. Filtering removes any sediment left after fermentation (like yeast, tannins and large proteins) that may alter the taste and appearance of the final product.
Unfortunately, some companies still use gelatine (a protein made from boiled animal body parts) or isinglass (a type of collagen obtained from the dried swim bladders of fish) as filters, making their product unsuitable for vegans.
Thankfully, this is an old-fashioned method, with many brands now opting for more modern – and cruelty-free – filtration systems.
Dried albumen (from egg whites) was also once used to clarify beer, but this is even less common these days. Phew.
Traditionally, ingredients such as gelatine or isinglass are used by some companies to filter beer to remove sediment, although many brands now opt for animal-free filtration systems. Image by Vladimir Volovodov via Getty
Which added ingredients are not vegan?
Lactose is a sugar found naturally in milk, and it’s sometimes added to beer to make it sweeter/creamier. This is because – unlike most other sugars – lactose can’t be fermented so it doesn’t convert to alcohol during the manufacturing process.
Historically, lactose was only added to milk stout, but some craft breweries are now experimenting by using it in other beers to change the flavour/texture profile.
Certain beers can also contains bee’s honey – which may not be obvious from the label – but if the beer’s name has ‘honey’ in it, it’s highly likely to contain it.
Occasionally, castoreum (a secretion from the castor sacs of mature beavers – gross!) might be used as ‘natural flavouring’ in beer, but this isn’t standard practice and may be more likely in specialist craft brews. So, be aware if you’re a fan of more unusual beverages.
Is lager/ale vegan?
Fact fans – beer is either classified as lager or ale. They both start out with the same four main ingredients (water, hops, yeast and grain), but the brewing processes are different – lager is fermented slower, at cooler temperatures, while ale is fermented faster, at warmer temperatures.
So, whether you prefer lager or ale (like IPA or stout), you still need to check for additional animal-derived ingredients, or a non-vegan filtration process.
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Whether you prefer larger or ale, it's important to check for additional animal-derived ingredients, or a non-vegan filtration process before purchasing. Image by Adermark Media via Getty.
How can you tell if beer is vegan?
Frustratingly, UK law states that ingredients don’t have to be listed on packaging for beers stronger than 1.2% ABV. However, allergens must be declared, which includes milk products like lactose.
Although fish is classed as an allergen, it’s exempt when used in the form of isinglass for filtration, so it won’t be obvious from a beer’s packaging if isinglass/gelatine has been used.
The safest way to check if your beer is suitable for vegans is to go directly to the company. Be aware that some of their products may be vegan-friendly, while others won’t, so confirm each individual product with them.
You can also search on Barnivore, a global vegan alcohol directory, and The Vegan Society has an extensive list of products (not just beer) which have been trademarked as vegan in the UK.
Heads up – a brand of beer might be vegan in the UK, but not in another country (and vice versa) as local breweries are often used, with differing manufacturing techniques.
If you’re at a pub or bar, your server should be able to tell you if there any allergens (like lactose) in your chosen drink, but they’re unlikely to know how the beer was filtered, so it’s best to be prepared and Google for yourself.
Which common beers are vegan?
The following beverages have been confirmed as vegan (in the UK), at time of publishing.
FYI, this list is not exhaustive, so get in touch with the manufacturer if your favourite brew isn’t featured. (Love a jazzy pale ale? There are loads of craft beers which are vegan-friendly – there are too many to feature here!)
- Beck’s, Beck’s Blue, Beck’s Gold, Beck’s Vier
- Birra Moretti, Birra Moretti Zero
- Budweiser, Bud Light and Budweiser Zero
- Erdinger Weissbier, Erdinger Alkoholfrei
- Estrella Damm
- Heineken, Heineken 0.0
- Newcastle Brown Ale
- Peroni, Peroni Gluten Free, Peroni 0.0%
- Red Stripe
- San Miguel
- Stella Artois
- Tennent’s, Tennent’s Light, Tennent’s Zero
Which common beers are NOT suitable for vegans?
At time of publishing, the following drinks sold in the UK were confirmed to be unsuitable for vegans, due to their manufacturing processes.
Fish in my drink? No thanks. Again, if you’re a fan of craft beer, it’s best to check direct with individual breweries.
- Coor’s and Coor’s Light
While not all beer is vegan, we’ve definitely got plenty to glug, so bottoms up, and don’t forget to drink responsibly…
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