Is Alcohol Vegan?
Author: Christine Roth
Last Updated: 6/02/2022
Veganism is a philosophy and a way of living that is most commonly known through its dietary aspects but also extends to clothing, make-up, and living practices. The philosophy details avoiding all forms of exploitation and cruelty towards animals for food, clothing, and any other purpose as much as is practical or possible within modern life. The term “animals” in this sense also extends to insects. Veganism promotes the use of animal-free alternatives, most of which are plant-based.
While many people hold the belief that living a vegan lifestyle is healthier than some other lifestyles or diets, this isn’t true to all extents as vegan alcohol does not necessarily add any health benefits to consuming alcohol, and poses the same risks for health complications that non-vegan alcohol does. Much of the time, the biggest difference between vegan and non-vegan alcohol is the products that are used in the fining process and whether they are derived from animals or plant-based means.
With that said, it is of utmost importance that all people who partake in drinking alcohol do so responsibly, with caution, and in moderation.
What are the Common Ingredients of Alcoholic Drinks?
While there are many different types of alcoholic drinks, such as wines, beers, or liquors, and there are even differences within those larger categories, many alcoholic drinks have some common ingredients of alcohol that form their basis.
Between all of the groups, the two most common ingredients are:
For wine, the most common additional ingredients include fruit, while beer and spirits utilize cereals such as barley and rye.
What Ingredients of Alcoholic Drinks are not Vegan?
In looking at what ingredients of alcoholic drinks may not be vegan, it is important to establish what makes ingredients vegan or not. In line with the philosophy of veganism, ingredients that are considered to be not vegan are those that are produced by or processed from animals; in general the term animal is expanded to include insects as well.
Some of the most common non-vegan ingredients that are found in alcohol include:
1. Milk and cream
Milk and cream are products that are produced by livestock animals such as cows and goats and can be considered to be a form of exploitation of these animals. While used in some cream-based drinks, milk and cream are most commonly found in mixed drinks or cocktails.
Honey is produced by bees; while many people believe honey is produced as a byproduct of a bee’s pollination product, it is a way for these insects to store food for the winter when their food sources may become scarce. Therefore, this can be considered a form of exploitation of these insects. In relation to alcohol, honey is most commonly used as a sweetening agent or as a main ingredient of meads.
Isinglass is a type of gelatin that is most commonly made from fish, usually sturgeon, and is often used for clarifying ales.
Gelatin is a protein derived from the collagen taken from body parts (skin, tendons, ligaments, and bones) of animals. The most common animals used for this process are cows and pigs. This can also be used as a clarifying agent in some alcohol.
Chitin is a fibrous substance that is generally derived from the exoskeleton of arthropods and can be used as a fining agent as well. When seeing Chitin as an ingredient, there is a bit more research for vegans to do as there are vegan versions of this ingredient that are derived from the cell walls of fungi; however, this version is less commonly used.
6. Cochineal and Carmine
Cochineal, also known as carmine, is a bright red pigment that is derived from the scales of cochineal insects. This ingredient may be used to color alcohol.
The production of eggs can be considered an exploitation of chicken. In regards to alcohol, the protein found in egg whites, albumin, is often used as a fining agent in wines. While less common, eggs can be found in some cocktails or mixed drinks.
8. Whey, Casein, and Lactose
Whey, casein, and lactose are byproducts of milk, and therefore can be considered an extension of the exploitation of milk-producing livestock such as cows and goats. These byproducts, specifically, are what contribute to lactose intolerance. With alcohol, these can also be used as ingredients as fining agents, depending on the type of alcohol being made.
What Should be Known About Whether Alcohol is Vegan?
While many companies do so voluntarily, regulations in the United States and Europe do not mandate that companies publish the ingredients of alcoholic drinks; this may make it difficult for those who follow a vegan diet to know whether or not they can ethically consume many types of alcoholic drinks. The exception to this is that in the United States companies must disclose whether or not the product includes cochineal or carmine.
In cases where the ingredients are not published, some steps you can take to identify whether or not the drink is vegan include:
- Contacting the manufacturer
- Oftentimes, a contact link is available through manufacturer websites.
- Look for symbols that are commonly used for vegan products
- Look for allergy statements
- Milk, eggs, and fish, while being non-vegan, are also common allergens and may be listed on the label. However, this is not a mandatory practice.
Additionally, the website Barnivore.com offers a reputable list of alcoholic drinks that have been checked with the manufacturers to ensure that they are vegan.
Are Vegan Drinks More Healthy?
No, vegan drinks are not more healthy. There is a common misconception that vegan products may be inherently healthier; in the case of alcoholic drinks, this is not the case. Many alcoholic drinks, especially spirits, are naturally vegan. Vegan alcoholic drinks pose just as many health risks as non-vegan alcoholic drinks based on them containing alcohol. Any health risks that are present with typical alcoholic drinks are present with vegan alcoholic drinks.
There is a common myth that vegans may have a lower alcohol tolerance, or experience worse hangovers after a night of drinking, however, there is little scientific research and evidence that supports these claims. In general, the main concern would be a zinc or vitamin B3 deficiency which helps to break down ethanol. However, these deficiencies can affect those who are not vegan and are more applicable on a person-to-person basis as everyone’s body reacts differently. Alcohol tolerance, as well, cannot be easily dictated by diet as several factors impact this including age, weight, gender, and genetics in addition to the diet.
Are Vegan Drinks Risk-Free?
No, vegan drinks are not risk-free. When drinking vegan alcoholic drinks you are still at risk for the same side effects and health concerns associated with consuming non-vegan alcoholic drinks. It is important to keep in mind that many alcoholic drinks are naturally vegan.
Just as with any other alcoholic drink, when you are consuming alcoholic drinks and excess you are at a much higher risk for short-term side effects such as nausea, vomiting, lack of coordination, lightheadedness, or confusion from intoxication. In the long term, one of the main concerns is liver disease or liver failure due to the increased stress placed on the liver as it attempts to metabolize alcohol.
These are only some of the harms of alcohol.
Are There Vegan Alcoholic Drinks?
Yes, there are vegan alcoholic drinks. In fact, there are vegan alcoholic drinks for each of the main categories (beer, wine, spirits).
In the case of vegan beers, many people assume it is easy to determine whether or not a beer is vegan based on the name; for example, “milk stouts” would be a product easily avoidable. However, while there are some ingredients, such as milk, that are easier to identify and avoid, the main concern as to whether or not a beer is vegan is a bit more difficult to determine. Most beers are made with the same base ingredients: barley malt, water, hops, and yeast, all of which are vegan as they are derived from plants. As beers are not necessarily required to list all of their ingredients, some of the more difficult to identify ingredients include isinglass and gelatin, both of which are typically used to affect the color of the beer and make it clearer.
Many of your favorite, easily accessible, or well-known brands are naturally vegan:
- Budweiser (except the Clamato variety)
- Coors and Coors Light
- Miller Lite
- Pabst Blue Ribbon
- Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
On average, vegan wines are a bit more difficult to identify than vegan beers. While the base ingredients of most wines are grapes which are crushed and fermented to produce alcohol, many use animal-based fining agents such as isinglass, chitin, or gelatin; these are primarily used to remove substances such as tannins which may cause a bitter taste. In the case of vegan wines, these manufacturers will use clay-based fining agents derived from the proteins in wheat, corn, potatoes, and other plants to produce a similar effect.
It is important to keep in mind that all meads, honey-based wines, are non-vegan being that their base ingredient is honey.
Some popular brands that make exclusively vegan wines include:
- Bellissima Prosecco
- Frey Vineyards
- Red Truck Wines
- The Vegan Vine
These are some of the most common vegan wines.
Vegan spirits can be a complicated category to navigate as there are many different products and subsections. For example, some rums and whiskeys contain honey which is usually, but not always, stated in the name. Cream-based liqueurs are decidedly non-vegan due to their use of dairy products. This category becomes even more difficult when it comes down to filling agents. Additionally many, but not all, translucent liquor that does not contain honey or dairy should be vegan. With spirits, it seems that the most trustworthy and clear indication that a product is vegan will be the presence of the vegan symbol on the packaging.
Some examples of vegan spirits include:
- Scotch Whisky
- Tennessee Whisky
What to Consider When Buying Vegan Alcohol?
As many alcohol manufacturers are not mandated to list the ingredients of their products, other than common allergens, one of the easiest and clear ways to determine whether or not a specific type or brand of alcohol is vegan is to look for stamps certifying that the product is in fact vegan. Some examples of this stamp include:
Additionally, the package may simply assert the product is vegan in its name, especially in cases where it is a vegan alternative to a traditional product.
It is important to keep in mind that not all vegan items are also cruelty free; while keeping products cruelty free, most commonly meaning that the products have not been tested on animals, may seem like a normal assumption in association with vegan products, this is not always the case and may require further research to assure that you are consuming ethically.