One of the more interesting pieces of fairly recent news was related to vegetarianism and alcohol. In Q4 2015 drinks giant Diageo announced their plan to stop Guinness being non vegetarian by the end of 2016. Their new production method from the end of 2016 would instead be not just vegetarian but also vegan.
(Gelatin and other animal derived ingredients goes into lots of booze).
A couple of fairly widely asked questions from this announcement:-
1) What on earth gets added in the manufacture of an alcoholic drink to render it non vegetarian?
2) If Guinness is currently non vegetarian, which drinks are vegetarian?
1) Manufacturing vegetarian and non vegetarian booze
To try to explain somewhat simplistically… To make alcoholic beverages 3 ingredients are required:-
a) Carbohydrate acts as the raw material to be converted into alcohol. For example glucose is a naturally occurring carbohydrate in grapes. Starch is a carbohydrate found in grains such as malted barley, wheat and rice.
b) Yeast when in water initiates and drives the conversion of carbohydrate into alcohol. The process is known as fermentation.
c) Water acts as the medium in which the carbohydrate comes into contact with the yeast to be fermented.
* As well as alcohol the fermentation process produces a cloudy & unappealing looking fluid of insoluble particles (such as the yeast)
* Alcoholic drinks thus usually undergo a process to remove the unwanted particles to make the beverage look more attractive
* A substance gets added into the fluid to bond to the unwanted particles. The objective of this step is to allow making the unwanted particles easier to remove (e.g. by filtering). This is so the beverage has a clear appearance
* The added substance to bond with the yeast is known as finings or a fining agent
It is the fining agent that is the most common pitfall in alcoholic drinks for vegetarians. Various different fining agents have been used in different places through the centuries. Some of those finings are below.
a) Non vegetarian:-
* Isinglass – made from the swim bladder of fish
* Gelatin – can be made from collagen of any of pig, cow, horse, chicken or fish
* Chitin – made from crustacean shells such as crab (Honestly. Who comes up with ideas like adding crab and lobster shell in booze manufacturing?)
b) Lacto / ovo vegetarian but not vegan:-
* Casein – a protein in animal milk also important in lacto cheese as well as the booze industry
* Albumin – the clearish looking protein substance in eggs that turns white when cooked
c) Vegan grade vegetarian:-
* Bentonite – Not something that turns Superman into a quivering jelly. For vegetarian booze drinkers its a super dooper form of absorbent clay. Bentonite is widely used as a non animal derived fining agent
* Kieselgur – A soft rock structure that easily crumbles into an absorbent white powder. Among its other uses are the stabilising agent in dynamite
* Pectinase – a plant derived product used in wine production since the 1960s
Another potential pitfall for vegan booze drinkers are a number of drinks where honey is used as an ingredient.
Which drinks are vego friendly, which aren’t?
Vegetarians including vegans looking to ascertain info on a particular alcoholic beverage usually start with Barnivore. Barnivore is a community driven website intended to give alcohol consumers an opportunity to make informed decisions on whether booze is or is not vegan.
The following is a list of the world’s top 10 wine brands as of 2015. Some additional info is included from Barnivore:-
1) Barefoot – This Californian brand is the biggest selling bottled wine brand on earth. They are a subsidiary of Gallo who bought them out in 2005. There are similarities between Barefoot and Gallo in the fining agents they use. Namely gelatin, fish, milk and eggs.
2) Gallo – How about this for dominance? Gallo owned brands take the number 1 and 2 positions worldwide. No surprise that the Gallo wine stance on fining agents is exactly as per that of Barefoot.
3) Conacha Y Toro – This Chilean outfit have Casillero del Diablo in their catalogue. The owners are intertwined in Hispanic aristocracy. On Barnivore Casillero del Diablo is listed as not vegan since a variety of unspecified animal derived fining agents are used.
4) Robert Mondavi – Another Californian brand. As well as milk and eggs they are also on Barnivore listed as using gelatin and Isinglass.
5) Sutter Home – The 4th California brand in the top 5. Their wines need checked on a case by case basis. Some are reported as vegan, some aren’t.
6) Yellow Tail – This is an Australian giant of the wine world. Yellow Tail is owned by the Cassella family. The Cassella’s are hunting enthusiasts. Indeed one of the Cassella brothers started an ammunition manufacturing business. Non vegan fining agents are hardly likely to be top of their philosophical concerns. Maybe they prefer Kieselgur being used to make dynamite instead of wine. The whites & roses are listed on Barnivore as non vegan. However & perhaps slightly surprisingly their Mallee Point red wines are reported on Barnivore as vegan.
7) Hardys – More Aussie big shots come in at number 7. They again use a wide range of fining agents sourced from gelatin, isinglass, milk and egg.
8) Lindeman’s – Another Aussie. Regrettably like so many of those above their wine is fined with any of casein, albumin, gelatin or isinglass. Lindeman’s is owned by Treasury Wines Estates. See number 9.
9) Beringer – The fifth California brand in the top 10. In this case owned by the Aussies at Treasure Wine Estates. Beringer urge caution for vego consumers in drinking their wine. They fine using all of the usual suspects.
10) Jacob’s Creek – The fourth Australian in the top 10. Jacob’s Creek is an Aussie subsidiary of Pernod Ricard. Pernod Ricard are major funders of bull fighting. Sticking to the veganism of the ingredients, Jacob’s Creek are another who use a full portfolio of animal derived finings.
The above makes pretty demoralising reading for the vego and especially the vegan wine drinker. While not in the top 10 but easily and widely available is Aussie wine, Yalumba. Yalumba previously used gelatin. However they switched to being all vegan from 2011.
The following is a list of the world’s 10 most popular beers in the world in 2015. Additional info has been added from Barnivore:-
1) Snow – A staggering (pun intended) 10.7 billion litres make this the world’s best selling beer. Snow is a lager made by SAB Miller in partnership with China Resources Breweries. Previously Snow was only available in China where it is manufactured. Now it is also available in Australia. SAB Miller are a previously South African / UK owned enterprise being taken over Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev). This is the world’s second biggest brewer being taken over the by the world’s biggest brewer. This forms the world’s even more biggest brewer. This is AB InBev’s response to the increasing growth of craft beers taking market share from the corporate owned breweries.
It is a delight to report that in the research for this article and after some dogged persistence to prise the info from SAB Miller… SAB Miller report that Snow is vegan friendly. The people at Barnivore have been notified accordingly.
2) Tsingtao – The world’s best known Chinese beer outside China. According to Barnivore it is vegan grade vegetarian.
3) Bud Light – One of many AB InBev brands to appear in the top 10 (like Chinese beer, a somewhat recurring theme in this list). Barnivore lists Bud Light as vegan. Bud Light is American. Note though that the smaller volume brand Bud Light Clamato Chelada is not vegan – it is manufactured with shellfish.
4) Budweiser – AB InBev’s less dilute form of Bud Light. Like Bud Light it’s vegan and from USA. Budweiser Clamata Chelada like its Bud Light cousin contains shellfish.
5) Skol – This is the first Brazilian brew in the list. It is an AB InBev product who manufacture in Brazil by arrangement with Carlsberg. Skol is on Barnivore as vegan.
6) Yanjing – The 3rd Chinese brand in the world’s six best selling beers. In the research of this article numerous approaches have been made to the manufacturers in China and Canada. Not a whimper of a reply so far. Drink Yanjing at your own risk.
7) Heineken – The Netherlands has the world’s seventh and Europe’s best selling beer. Heineken as a corporation are not in the same magnitude as AB InBev. Heineken do though have numerous other well known brands in their portfolio such as Sol. Heineken is listed in Barnivore as a vegan beer.
8) Harbin – The 4th and final Chinese beer in the top ten is at number 8. Its also the 4th AB InBev brand in the top 8. Again the manufacturers were approached in the research of this article. AB InBev advise Harbin is a vegan beer. Barnivore now reflects Harbin is vegan.
9) Brahma – The 2nd Brazilian in the list is yet another AB InBev brew. 5 of the world’s top 10 selling beers even before acquiring Snow. This is a reasonable idea of how AB InBev are the world’s biggest beer corporation. There are editions of Brahma from Argentina, Belgium & UK listed on Barnivore. Not yet though anything re the Brazilian brew. The Brahma customer services people like Yanjing have been approached numerous times in the research of this article. Like Yanjing they have not replied. Consume at your own risk.
10) Coors Light – This is the best selling beer in the stable of the US/Canadian corporation that is Molson Coors. Coors is the US half of the organisation. Coors Light is listed on Barnivore as vegan.
Thanks to Glyn for contributing industry knowledge to this article. Thanks also to Jason and co at Barnivore for great work.