A vegan’s guide to alcohol

Published

Credit: Rhiannon Doherty

Daniella Meehan
Writer
A helping hand for vegan-friendly drinking

Vegans, vegetarians and omnivores alike are often surprised to learn that their favourite drinks may contain a multitude of animal-derived products. This is hardly surprising given the sheer amount of misinformation surrounding alcohol, as the manufacturers are (annoyingly) not required by law to list their ingredients.

The two most common ways that animal products make their way into our alcoholic beverages is through an ingredient in the drink itself or through the product’s filtration process. Here’s a handy list of common “ingredients” which should be avoided by vegans: Albumen: derived from egg white; Albumin: from eggs or dried blood; Carmine: crushed scales of a cochineal insect; Casein: obtained from milk; Charcoal: often from animal bones; Chitin: derived from the shells of crustaceans; Gelatin: from bones and connective tissues of cows or pigs; Isinglass: obtained from fish swim bladders; Lactose: protein derived from milk; and Pepsin: a foaming agent in beer sometimes derived from pigs.

The lack of transparency surrounding alcohol may seem daunting for those who avoid animal products, but it’s not all doom and gloom. Luckily, there are plenty of vegan alcohol guides to assist you through the minefield, with the most popular site being Barnivore, an online directory listing an array of vegan beers, wines and spirits. We can also take a look at some vegan-friendly alcoholic substitutions which still taste great and will leave you feeling merry.

Cider

Vegans should be cautious when purchasing cider, as even a few mainstream brands contain animal-derived products. But there are still plenty of products to choose from, which are still as fruity and thirst-quenching as the big brands. For example, there’s Alska cider, who have an extensive range of flavoured ciders including Nordic Berries, Strawberry and Lime, and a personal favourite, Passionfruit and Apple. These fruity ciders can often be found in Aldi stores around the U.K for a very reasonable £1.50 a bottle. Other vegan-friendly ciders include all of the Brothers range and the majority of Old Mout ciders, although the latter does warn that there may be some risk of ingredient “carry-over” between the vegan and non-vegan drinks.

One big name brand to avoid, however, is Kopparberg. Kopparberg is unsuitable for vegans as it contains gelatin, an ingredient derived from boiled animal bones and animal collagen. Another company to be wary of is Strongbow, who list many of their ciders as unsuitable for vegetarians due to the presence of cochineal, an insect which is used to produce carmine, a red dye. However, many vegans may be pleased to learn that the infamous Strongbow Dark Fruits is vegan-friendly, according to Barnivore.

Wine

Surely wine is just made from grapes, right? Nope. White wine and rosé often use isinglass, a substance obtained from the dried swim bladders of fish, to filter the drink to give a clear end-product. Red wine, on the other hand, can contain egg whites and milk, which are often used to remove bitterness from the product. Port and sherry are also usually to be avoided, due to the addition of gelatin.

A couple of vegan-friendly wine brands to be recommended include Oxford Landing, who list all of their wines as vegan-friendly, and Blossom Hill, who list around half of their wines as suitable. For a more general guide, big-name supermarkets such as Marks & Spencer, Co-op, Tesco and Sainsbury’s all have their own-brand vegan wines, which are surprisingly tasty, with prices starting around the £5 mark.

One popular wine brand to avoid is Yellowtail. Once a vegan-friendly brand, their wines now include milk, eggs and isinglass, according to the company website. Brands such as Barefoot and Echo Falls are also to be given a miss for their animal-derived ingredients.

Beer

One word – Tennent’s. Yes, you’ll probably be pleased to learn that Scotland’s favourite pint is suitable for vegans and vegetarians. Other vegan-friendly beers include Carlsberg (with the exception of Carlsberg Zest) and Budweiser, who claim all their beers are vegan-friendly.

The hipsters can also rejoice as you’ll often find a majority of craft beers are suitable for vegans too. Brands to recommend include Brewdog, who claim their beer is “brewed for vegans” and have plenty of hoppy delights to offer, with only three of their beverages listed as unsuitable (Jet Black Heart, Dogma and Electric India). Other vegan-friendly craft beer brewers include Glasgow’s own Drygate, who, with the exception of their bottled ale, offers an array of vegan craft beer. Be sure to check out their Gladeye IPA, a personal favourite.

Any beers brewed by Fosters or Carling are to be avoided, two big brands who use various animal products in their drinks.

Spirits & Liquors

Fortunately, vegans will be happy to find out that most spirits are free of any animal-based products. However, there are a few exceptions, such as Vodka O’s, who use whey – a byproduct of cheesemaking – as part of their distillery process. Be sure to keep an eye on what’s in your cocktails too, as a few may contain milk, cream, honey or eggs. Luckily, most cocktails list their ingredients, which makes it a lot easier to avoid unwanted products.

Obvious non-vegan friendly liquors are cream-based drinks such as Baileys. However, ex-Baileys lovers should be sure to check out Bailey’s new Almande drink, a dairy-free, almond milk version of their original recipe. An even cheaper option can sometimes be spotted on the Christmas shelves of Marks and Spencer, who have their own cream liqueur – a delicious chocolate and coconut liquor which, amazingly, is dairy free – so be sure to stock up if you spot this product, as it’s known to fly off the shelves.

Note, this is a U.K-friendly guide only and all information is correct at time of writing. Please remember to drink responsibly.