Can vegans drink alcohol?
Can vegans drink alcohol? Answer and non-alcoholic alternatives
We begin this article by directly answering the question: “Is alcohol vegan?”
Yes, however, for wine and beer, many companies use animal products as fining agents including fish bladders, egg whites, gelatin and skim milk.
All spirits are suitable for vegans as are most distilled spirits with the exception of cream based liqueurs which contain dairy products and honey based drinks.
However, as we said, ingredients of animal origin are used in some alcoholic products : this is information that most people do not know, as do many, many vegetarians or vegans!
Since for Mindful Morsel the road towards a plant-based, bio, natural and increasingly conscious diet also passes through correct information, we would like to shed some light on this issue, i.e. the relationship between alcohol and a vegan diet.
Is the wine vegan? We understand how this is done
Step 1 of wine production
To simplify, we can say that white wine is made with white grapes and red wine with (you guessed it!) red grapes.
The older the grape, the sweeter the sugars, so winemakers try to wait as long as possible before harvesting. Furthermore, the quality of the wine depends on the quality of the grapes and obviously on the land used to grow them.
The raw material, that is the grape with everything that surrounds it, is what makes a wine unique and of quality. Once harvested, the grapes are placed on a sorting table to remove leaves and other unnecessary bits and pieces, including hopefully not too many insects.
Step 2 of wine production
This step is more specific to red wine, as it is common practice to use the juice, skin, pulp and seeds of red grapes during production.
White grapes, on the other hand, go directly to the presser, since what really matters for the production of white wine is their juice.
Step 3 of wine production
The task of the press is to squeeze out all the pure grape juice. Simple enough, right?
Step 4 of wine production
The must is transferred to large stainless steel fermentation tanks, where yeast is added to the grape must . The latter is fundamental in our discussion, since it is the secret ingredient that transforms the natural grape sugar into alcohol.
Winemakers experiment with the use of different types of yeast to improve the quality of the wine.
Step 5 of wine production
The grape juice and yeast sit in harmony for some time, to allow for fermentation. White wine is generally fermented for three weeks, at 17 degrees Celsius, while red wine is fermented for ten days, at between 30 and 35 degrees Celsius.
Instead, rosé wine uses the juice of red grapes and is fermented as if it were a white wine.
There's an extra step with red wine, though. The tank is emptied and the wine is aerated. The oxygen helps the yeast ferment faster. Once drained, the juice is then returned to the vat.
Step 6 of wine production
The wine is stored for a few months in oak barrels. Sugar levels are monitored, as the alcohol gradually increases to 11% for red wine and 11-11.5% for white and rosé wine.
Step 7 of wine production
It is at this point that, sometimes, the donkey falls (poor!).
Up to here, everything sounds clean and legit, right? We have almost a finished product, so it's hard to think that wine can't be vegan.
In the barrel, the aged wine is ready for consumption. However, as the blend has been maturing for months, small particles such as tannins and proteins have developed in the wine, making the fluid cloudy and viscous.
Obviously, wine cannot be sold with potential physical particles floating around in it, so the mix needs to be filtered, to make it as clear as possible.
Interestingly, wine can be filtered naturally , but it's a time-consuming process, and the economics of the business drive winemakers to get products to their customers as quickly as possible.
This is why winegrowers often intervene to speed up the process.
Products called clarifiers are added to the blend, which attract these small particles and allow the producer to filter the wine while leaving agents and particles behind.
These are the eight commonly used fining agents. Using them or not will help us answer the question "can vegans drink alcohol?"
- Gelatin (protein from boiled animal parts)
- Isinglass (fish bladder)
- Albumin (egg white)
- Casein (a milk protein)
- Skimmed milk (dairy products)
- Bentonite (clay)
- Polyvinylpolypyrrolidone (PVPP for short)
Winemakers use different fining agents for various reasons. Some agents are better suited for white wine, while others are better for red. Some agents are harder to work with than others, and so on.
Now, at this point, you might be thinking, "What's the matter?" After all, by the magic of science, filtered wine doesn't contain any animal products, so it's still vegan, isn't it?
Can vegans drink alcohol and specifically wine? Yes and no.
Winemakers cannot give a 100% guarantee that gelatin, albumin, casein or milk did not sneak into your bottle of wine.
Step 8 of wine production
Once the wine has been filtered from the barrels, it's time for bottling. Bottling and corking are usually done by machines, to ensure that the wine is hermetically sealed.
Finally, the wine continues to mature on the shelf until it is opened and consumed.
So: can vegans drink wine?
Yes! It simply depends on which fining agents were used to filter it : information that can be found quite quickly by visiting the manufacturer's website or reading the product label.
It is interesting to see that the winemaking process is relatively simple and that the use of a vegan fining agent does not affect the taste or quality of the wine. It's purely a tool to go from step to step!
This is important information to know, because if ever someone were to tell you that "vegan wine tastes worse than non-vegan wine", now you know very well that it is not and you can also explain why.
Let's continue our exploration to best answer the question "can vegans drink alcohol?"
Is beer vegan?
As with wine, it is common practice to strain beer to remove any excess particles. And, again as for the wine, the same fining agents are used: they can be vegan, or they can't be.
The essential difference between wine and beer, especially with the one produced in the traditional way, is that the brewers add all sorts of ingredients to the barley, water, hops and yeast, to create different flavours.
This is where animal products can come into play. For sweeter beers, brewers might add honey . There are some beers flavored with chocolate or even bacon !
So, outside of fining agents, there are more variables for beer than for wine. Also in this case, the producer will take care to inform customers of the presence of ingredients of animal origin in their beers, through communications on the website or clear and transparent labels. If something is not clear to you, always contact the manufacturer.
Vegan alternatives to wine and beer
Now that we have understood that wine and beer can be 100% vegan, but that in some cases, due to production choices, they contain ingredients of animal origin, how can we behave?
The best choice is to make an extensive list of wineries and breweries that include 100% vegan products in their catalog . We can assure you that it won't be difficult to find them: more and more winemakers and master brewers are embracing an organic, natural and artisanal production philosophy, capable of placing excellent beers and excellent wines on the market, suitable for all diets. Can vegans drink alcohol? Not always, but paying attention to the labels and contacting the producers for clarification is possible.