Most people are surprised to hear the term "vegan beer." But animal products can make their way into brews (and wine and liquor), so it's something vegans need to keep an eye on. Here are tips for folks who want to keep their booze animal-free.
Why isn't some beer and wine vegan?
Some breweries, especially those in the United Kingdom, use animal-based fining agents to clarify their beer. These can include isinglass (derived from the swim bladder of certain types of fish) and gelatin (obtained from boiling bones, hooves, and connective tissues of cows and pigs). In wine, chitosan (from shellfish) and egg albumen are common clarifying ingredients.
Plus, some beers use flavoring ingredients that are not vegan, such as lactose (used in sweet stouts and many dessert beers), oysters (yes, really) and even bacon. While lactose is often not clearly listed on the label, other animal-based flavoring ingredients usually are.
How can I tell if my booze is vegan?
Vegan beers and wines may use silica-based fining agents, centrifuges and cold conditioning in place of animal-based options.
Unfortunately, fining agents aren't disclosed on the labeling of alcoholic beverages, so you'll need to do a little research. Barnivore.com is a good resource, containing a large database of booze along with its vegan or nonvegan status. If you don't find it on Barnivore, call breweries, wineries and distilleries and inquire about their process.
I'm in a liquor store and don't have an Internet connection. What do I get?
Nearly all distilled spirits are vegan, with the exception of the obvious ones (cream-based liqueurs, for example). For beer, no problem: The vast majority of domestic beers are vegan-friendly, as are nearly all Belgian- and German-style beers. In a pinch, pick up a Trappist ale, lambic or Kolsch. Wine can be tougher; I recommend memorizing a few favorites.
Any local vegan options?
To my knowledge, every brewery, distillery and winery in the Tampa Bay area is vegan-friendly, with the exception of a handful of beers flavored with nonvegan items. Even the locally brewed Sea Dog beers (not vegan in packaged form) are vegan at the Sea Dog tasting room.
Justin Grant is a longtime vegan who writes about beer and bars for the Times. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow @WordsWithJG.