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Why Isn’t All Beer Vegan?

Margaret Lipman
Published May 28, 2024
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Vegans have enough on their plates, so to speak, without having to worry about hidden animal products in their favorite beverages. But if you thought that beer, which typically boasts a simple ingredient list of water, barley malt, hops, and yeast, was a safe bet, it’s worth doing some digging to find out whether your beer of choice is actually vegan-friendly.

It turns out that not all beers are technically vegan (or even vegetarian), though this fact is rarely featured on labels and packaging. Of course, if you choose a specialty beer like milk stout (which contains lactose from cow’s milk) or something flavored with honey, there’s a pretty big hint in the name that what you're drinking isn't fully plant-based. However, some seemingly straightforward lagers and ales don’t qualify as vegan, either.

The main culprit is isinglass, a type of collagen derived from the dried swim bladders of fish. Isinglass was traditionally used as a fining agent to filter the beer, removing post-fermentation sediment to make it clearer. Gelatin, derived from animal collagen, can also be used as a fining agent in beer, though it is less common in modern brewing methods than isinglass. These additives, known as "finings,” are used in the brewing process but are not part of the final product, which is why they don’t have to be mentioned on product labels.

On the bright side, however, an increasing number of breweries have adopted more modern filtration methods, achieving excellent results without the use of animal products. Vegan fining agents include bentonite, Irish moss, silica gel, pectinate, and synthetic polymers like polyvinylpolypyrrolidon (PVPP).

What's in your glass?

  • *People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has compiled an extensive list of beer brands and varieties that are suitable for vegans. Though you’ll see a wide range of brands like Budweiser, Michelob, Corona, Blue Moon, Goose Island, and Lagunitas on the list, there are some notable omissions, such as the Australian lager Foster’s. Unfortunately, many breweries do not reveal whether any animal products are used in their manufacturing process, nor are they required to reveal their ingredients.

  • *In the UK, vegans should also avoid Coors Light, Carling, and Kronenbourg. Many real ales (cask ales), another popular British tipple, are still made with isinglass, too. Guinness was traditionally filtered with isinglass but due to a manufacturing change, it has been suitable for vegans since 2017.

  • *Confusingly, not all beers made by a brewery are necessarily vegan. And depending on the manufacturing techniques used in a particular location, it’s possible that a beer could be vegan in one country but not in another. For example, Coors Light in the US is vegan, but not in the UK.

  • *Although yeast is a living organism, it is a fungus (like mushrooms). The vast majority of vegans (including PETA) accept yeast as part of a vegan diet.

  • *Many bony fish have a swim bladder (also known as a gas bladder, air bladder, or fish maw) to help control their buoyancy and conserve energy.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Margaret Lipman
By Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range of topics. Her articles cover essential areas such as finance, parenting, health and wellness, nutrition, educational strategies. Margaret's writing is guided by her passion for enriching the lives of her readers through practical advice and well-researched information.
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Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range...
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