Vegan culture is soaring and more and more people are trying to find out if their every day food and drink is vegan. There are lots of food stuffs you would not have thought you would need to consider this in. Certainly beer was one for me. Is it vegan? Why would it not be and how would i check? Is non alcoholic beer vegan?
Many non alcoholic beers are vegan but not all. Some specifically label themselves as vegan but others don’t. Non alcoholic beer may be made with lactose or honey for flavour or filtered with animal products although this is increasingly less likely. You can check the vegan status on barnivore.com.
To understand what animal ingredients that non alcoholic beer might contain and why these are an issue, lets walk through a complete guide to veganism.
We can see what a vegan can and cant eat, what may appear in beer, what it can be replaced by and how to check your non alcoholic beer is vegan or not.
Ive written about non alcoholic vegan beer as well. It shares many similarities but there are some important differences. Have a look here
What is Veganism?
Veganism has became extremely popular with many celebrities endorsing the lifestyle. You will definitely have heard of it or are practicing it, but what is it exactly?
The term “vegan” began back in the 1940s when a small group of vegetarians split from Leicester Vegetarian Society (UK) to form the Vegan Society.
The stated aim was not to consume dairy, eggs, or any other products of animal origin. This was in addition to to eating meat which is the basis of a vegetarian diet.
The “Vegan” name is just a combination of the first and last letters of “vegetarian.”
Veganism is currently defined as a way of living that attempts to exclude all forms of animal exploitation and cruelty, be it from food, clothing, or any other purpose.
Why choose to be a vegan?
There are many reasons to choose a vegan diet, i’ve lumped them into 3 categories that best fit.
Health benefits always rank highly in any chosen diet, and none more so than vegan.
- Higher in certain nutrients such as plant antioxidants but also fibre, magnesium and potassium
- Weight loss. Yes a vegan diet without animal fats will help you lose weight and have a lower BMI
- It can help prevent Type 2 Diabetes with better insulin regulation
- Can protect vs cancer? WHO say you can reduce your risk by modifying your diet
- Want reduced heart disease? Plant based diet has you covered.
- It can reduce arthritic pains in your joints
So as you can see, this list of heath benefits is enough to sway many to a vegan diet.
Many people choose to avoid animal products because animal agriculture can have a large impact on the environment
As an example, animal agriculture can contributes up to 65% of global nitrous oxide emissions, 35–40% of methane emissions, and perhaps 9% of carbon dioxide emissions. Large numbers in anyones book.
Nitrous oxide, methane and CO2 are 3 of the most important greenhouse gases harming the environment.
Furthermore, animal agriculture tends to be a highly water-intensive process. Up to 50 times more water than is needed to produce a like for like quantity of beef vs cereal.
Animals also need large areas to graze which can lead to deforestation, loss of natural habitat and native species.
Last but not least is the ethics of using animals or animal product in food. Many vegans have strongly held beliefs around all animals right to life.
Due to these beliefs, they choose to refrain from eating animals or animal products when ready plant based replacements are there.
The other objection can be with the psychological stress that modern farming and slaughter can put on animals and a want to avoid contributing to this.
Is non alcoholic beer vegan?
So this is the question. This is why you are here! Rather annoyingly the answer is…. it depends. Why does it depend on i hear you ask. Well, as we have read above, it will depend on if any animal products are used as either non alcoholic beer ingredients or in the brewing process in some way.
You would think a product that is essentially barley, hops, yeast and water wouldn’t have animal products but prepare to be surprised. They are hidden and in some cases that can make you more than a bit squeamish.
In a similar field, check out my article on gluten free beer and how to check for that
What animal products might be in non alcoholic beer?
Some animal products are added to the 4 core beer ingredients (barley, hops, yeast, water). They are mostly as sweeteners and to produce a creamy mouthfeel. The traditional beers you would have found these in would be the stouts.
Lactose is the sugar present in animal milk (mostly drank in cows milk). The beauty and uniqueness of this sugar in the brewing process is that it doesn’t ferment. Most sugars convert to alcohol during the beer making process but lactose remains in the finished beer.
This means the finished beer can have an added sweetness and a more creamy finish. As mentioned above, this is primarily reserved for stouts but is creeping into more and more beers with new craft brews.
Honey is/was the main ingredient in “mead”. Mead is an old style beer like drink. Adding honey to beer has grown in popularity recently. Honey provides a rich array of flavours that add complexity and character to the beer when added to the brewing process.
This can be added to ensure a creamy head to the beer. It is otherwise known as GMS.
What animal products might be used to make non alcoholic beer?
As well as ingredients in the actual finished beer that you drink, animal products can be used to make the beer. “Finings” are used to filter beer of yeast and hops or other fine matter the brewer doesn’t want you to drink. The process of clarifying a beer of the particulates is called flocculation.
Isinglass is made from fish swim bladders.
It is still used today because its actually very good at flocculation. The practice is largely diminishing with modern centrifugation but you will still find it in cask-contained ales.
In cold beer it works to grab and bind proteins and other particulates that would make the beer hazy. They can all then settle faster. It is made by boiling various connective tissues of cows and pigs.
Casein is the protein found in milk. Once again i can bind floating particles to settle them faster.
As with the other fining agents, the protein in egg whites can bing the particles for removal. It would be more heavily used in wine making.
How are vegan beers filtered?
Brewers do have a choice in their fining/filtering technique. There are plenty of non animal based finings which are increasingly used in the business.
There are other brewing techniques to calcify beer which don’t use finings at all, even clod storage improves clarity.
You would be forgiven for thinking this is a moss found in Ireland wouldn’t you?! It turns out this is actually a type of seaweed. Its pretty good at binding the floaters too. The extract from red seaweed is called Carrageenan.
Bentonite is a clay consisting mostly of montmorillonite. It forms a paste with water and is used as a fining agent.
From brown algae, alginate can be used as a fining agent or more commonly (as propylene glycol alginate) to stabilise the foam.
Guinness post 2017 – Diageo
Too much acclaim in the Vegan world, in April 2017, Guinness confirmed it had removed isinglass from its filtering method. This means that all kegs on the market are now vegan.
Guinness, in a statement said…
Many of the larger brewers have already done the same or are following in Guinness’s footsteps.
Can you tell from the label?
In Canada and the USA, there is no requirement to list ingredients on the label, this can clearly make it difficult to see if a product is vegan. In The UK, there is a required allergy declaration for milk and eggs. However, if it is not at the set detection level, they are exempt from these labelling requirements.
Isinglass and gelatin are specifically exempt from these allergy labelling requirements so do not have to be listed.
One obvious tell tale sign a product is vegan friendly will be “Vegan” put somewhere prominent on the label.
How to find out if a non alcoholic beer is vegan?
We have seen that it can be very difficult, if not impossible to see if an animal product was used in a beer, just from the label or packaging. There are other alternative tho.
You can contact a company directly or check out their website for more information. This can be time consuming and you may not get the response you want.
Luckily there are 2 fantastic resources…
- Vegaholic app (app version on Barnivore)
Barnivore is a superb resource where a group of people have done the legwork for you. They’ve contact 10s of thousands of companies. When you search for a beer (or food), it lists all the subtypes and if they are vegan friendly or not. When you click on the beer you can see all the correspondence with the companies the recommendations are based on.
You can see from the Coors search above, Coors in USA is vegan but not in the UK. Clicking on the UK link it says…
Company email (February 2021) re Coors Light:
“Unfortunately Coors Light in the UK is not currently suitable for vegans.”
So Barnivore and its app Vegaholic are far and away the best resources to quickly check if the beer you are about to buy or drink is vegan.
Does being vegan affect the taste of the beer?
If an alternative fining was used to an animal product this will have no impact on the taste. Similarly if there was no animal product in the beer to start with (such as lactose) then the taste has never had to change.
There may perhaps be a slight difference in taste if lactose or honey has been replaced with something else but brewing techniques are so advanced these days that something else will have been used to replicate the flavour.
In general there is no taste difference when a beer is vegan friendly compared to one that contains animal products. The clarifying finings dont alter the taste and animal sugars can be replaced with plant based alternatives.