By Michael Finn
*Note from your authors: If you’re a new vegan, it can be overwhelming to see how many things that we eat, drink, and use have animal products. Remember, veganism is not about being perfect. Every vegan choice you make is a positive difference. A lot of people transition over time, and once you have some vegan habits down, changes like this are a lot easier.
Autumn is quickly approaching, and all across Wisconsin, excitement is brewing in anticipation for the annual celebration of Oktoberfest. Starting mid-September, ‘hopivores’ will congregate to bars, pubs, and festivals across the Midwest – all in hopes of quenching their mighty thirst for the frosty brew. For most, the festivities are a victimless pleasure; the drinks are delicious, and the autumnal merriment rejuvenates the soul. But for many unsuspecting revelers, especially vegans and vegetarians, a dirty secret must be unveiled before “ein prosit” is sung.
Numerous beers, wines, and liquors are produced with a hodgepodge of animal by-products. The medley includes isinglass (fish swim bladder), gelatin (sourced from boiled spines, bone & connective tissue), casein (a milk protein), chitosan (crustacean exoskeletons), albumin (egg protein), carmine (crushed & boiled insects), milk, honey, cream, oysters, shells, bacon, beef base, anchovies, and even blood!
These unsettling ingredients are utilized for three primary reasons: 1. Flavoring, 2. Coloring, and 3. Fining. While the purpose of flavoring and coloring are obvious, fining is a term generally unfamiliar to most of us. This process involves clarifying alcoholic beverages of impurities, sediments, and cloudiness. Fining ingredients include isinglass, gelatin, albumin, casein, chitosan, and shells.
Dried blood at one time was used as a fining agent, but was outlawed in the United States and France in 1997 (During the Mad Cow disease scare). It was mostly found in wine production. Blood is still utilized in some Mediterranean countries, and may be present in older bottles of wine here in the United States. For this reason, it’s always good to know how a particular wine was made during the year it was bottled.
Although fining ingredients are largely filtered out, trace elements may be present in the finished product. Despite whether trace elements are present or not, vegans and vegetarians will be averse to imbibing such products on ethical grounds. Some may object to the potential usage of animal based glue on drink labels. Alternatives could include cans or draft.
Animal ingredients used in the flavoring venue are numerous. We’ve all seen milk stouts, oyster stouts, bacon beer, cream liqueurs, and beers/liquors containing honey. Most of the time these additives are clearly marked on the label; however, so consumers know what they’re purchasing.
Other flavoring agents that could put the yuck in your cup may not be so overt. Beef base, for instance, is often added as a flavor enhancer to Bloody Marys. Worcestershire sauce, which (except for specialty vegan versions) contains anchovies, is also a common additive in this drink. Some raspberry and strawberry flavoring could potentially contain castoruem, which is a flavoring/scenting agent derived from the castor glands on Beavers (located near their anuses). Refined sugar that’s filtered through bone char is also sometimes used for flavor, but mainly in liqueurs.
So what can you do???
If all of this is seriously bumming your “Gemütlichkeit,” there is good news. You can utilize several tools that will help you steer clear of steer in your beer. Barnivore.com, for example, is an invaluable referencing source for vegans & vegetarians. The site contains an A-Z list of hundreds of drinks, and specifies whether they’re vegan friendly or not. In the event the drinks are unsafe, there is usually an explanation on why. The site also offers a plethora of information, including a form that you can send out to companies to inquire if their unlisted drinks are safe.
Several apps are available for download which offer the same caliber of quality. For the iPhone there is VeggieBrews, VeganXpress, Vegaholic, and Vegan Alcohol Guide. For Android there’s Veganlist and IsItVegan.
Personally, I use VeganXpress. This app harnesses the database of Barnivore. It too contains an A-Z list of beers, wines, and liquors, but also covers vegan menu guides and foods. It’s very helpful when you’re shopping or at a restaurant. It costs 1.99, but is completely worth it!
When it comes to being a compassionate consumer, it doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned vegan, fledgling vegetarian, or someone just beginning to contemplate vegetarianism. Staying informed is the best method for drinking with a clear conscience. The more you educate yourself, the less chance you’ll inadvertently consume bladder or bone scum. As we all know, animal parts pop up in a variety of unexpected places, so it’s important to have fun, but be watchful of sneaky companies that slip muck into their products.
Whether you’re staying in this Oktoberfest, or dressing up and jiving to the chicken dance, hopefully this article, and resources, will help keep you from crying in the hypothetical beer you found out isn’t animal friendly.
Cheers, fellow Animal Lovers!!
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