Vegan diets exclude all animal products, including meat, dairy, eggs, and honey — and most of them also eliminate any byproducts derived from animals or insects, including ones used during food processing.
Finding vegan alcohol can be tricky, as manufacturers aren’t usually required to list ingredients on labels for beer, wine, and spirits.
Thus, you may wonder how to tell which products are vegan.
This article provides a complete guide to vegan alcohol by highlighting non-vegan ingredients to look out for, reviewing several types of alcohol, and offering purchasing tips.
Common non-vegan ingredients
Many — but certainly not all — alcoholic beverages are vegan.
Animal products may be used during processing or as ingredients in the drink itself.
For example, animal-derived foods are often used as fining agents, which are substances that help filter out impurities and improve the clarity, flavor, and aroma of alcoholic beverages.
Here are some common non-vegan ingredients and fining agents used in alcohol:
- Milk and cream. These dairy products are sometimes added to beer and liqueurs to give a creamy, rich flavor. They’re also used in many cocktails and blended drinks.
- Whey, casein, and lactose. These milk byproducts are occasionally used as ingredients or fining agents.
- Honey. Honey is fermented to make mead and used as a sweetener in other alcoholic beverages.
- Eggs. Egg white protein, also known as albumin, is often used as a fining agent in wine. Eggs are also added to some cocktails.
- Isinglass. This popular fining agent is derived from fish bladders.
- Gelatin. Gelatin is not only used to make jello, puddings, and gravies but also commonly serves as a fining agent. Notably, it’s derived from animal skin, bones, and cartilage.
- Cochineal and carmine. Carmine, a red dye made out of scaly insects called cochineal, is added to some alcoholic beverages for color.
- Chitin. Chitin is a fiber used as a fining agent. Though vegan versions exist, it’s often a byproduct of insects or shellfish.
Summary: Not all alcoholic beverages are vegan, as animal products may be used during processing or included in the drink itself.
A guide to vegan beer
The four main ingredients in beer are water, a grain like barley or wheat, yeast, and hops — a flower that provides beer’s distinctive, bitter taste. The yeast ferments and digests the sugar from the grain to produce alcohol.
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All of these ingredients are vegan. However, some breweries add non-vegan ingredients to clarify, flavor, or color the beer.
Vegan beers do not use animal or insect products at any time during brewing.
Most commercial beers from established breweries are vegan. These include:
- Budweiser and Bud Light
- Coors and Coors Light
- Corona Extra and Corona Light
- Michelob Ultra
- Miller Genuine Draft and Miller High Life
- Pabst Blue Ribbon
- Guinness Draught and Guinness Original XX
Keep in mind, this is not an exhaustive list — numerous other vegan beers are on the market, including many craft beers.
Craft breweries may include vegan status on the product label, which is indicated by the text or a vegan trademark. Microbreweries that make vegan beer include Alternation Brewing Company, Little Machine, and Modern Times Brewery.
If you have a favorite craft brewery, consider asking them whether their beers are vegan.
Any beer brewed with ingredients derived from animals or insects is not vegan.
Ingredients like isinglass and gelatin may be used as fining agents, while whey, lactose, and honey are sometimes added as ingredients.
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It may be difficult to tell when such ingredients are used, as they’re not always listed on the label. Adding to the confusion, some companies make both vegan and non-vegan brews.
Though there are exceptions, certain types of beer typically aren’t vegan, including:
- Cask ales. Otherwise known as real ales, cask ales are a traditional British brew that often uses isinglass as a fining agent.
- Honey beers. Some breweries use honey for added sweetness and flavor. Any beer with “honey” in the name is likely not vegan.
- Meads. Mead is a beer-like alcoholic beverage made by fermenting honey.
- Milk stouts. Though vegan alternatives exist, milk stouts usually contain whey or lactose.
Summary: While many beers are vegan, others may be brewed with non-vegan ingredients, such as isinglass, gelatin, whey, lactose, and honey.
A guide to vegan wine
Wine is made from grapes, which are crushed and fermented to form alcohol.
After the juice is fermented, fining agents may be added to remove unwanted substances, such as bitter plant compounds called tannins.
If animal-based fining agents are used, the wine cannot be considered vegan.
There are many vegan wines on the market.
Vegan wines use clay-based fining agents, such as bentonite, or proteins derived from wheat, corn, legumes, potatoes, or other plants.
Many wineries also include their vegan status on the label, which is indicated by the text or a vegan trademark.
Keep in mind that some wineries produce both vegan and non-vegan wines. For example, Yellow Tail and Charles Shaw produce vegan red varieties, but their white wines aren’t vegan-friendly.
Some wineries may use animal products, such as isinglass, gelatin, albumin, and casein, for fining. Carmine, a red dye made from insects called cochineal, may also be added as a colorant.
Except for carmine and cochineal, wineries aren’t always required to list ingredients — including fining agents — on the label.
Summary: Some wineries use animal products like carmine for coloring or isinglass, gelatin, albumin, and casein during processing. All the same, plenty of vegan wines are available.
A guide to vegan spirits
Unlike beer and wine, spirits rely on a process called distillation, in which the alcohol is concentrated from fermented ingredients.
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Most unflavored spirits are vegan. However, some flavored liquors and several cocktail recipes aren’t.
Vegan liquor is relatively easy to find. Unflavored versions of the following spirits are usually free of animal-based ingredients, including during processing:
However, there are exceptions in each category. Whether a particular spirit is vegan ultimately depends on the manufacturer.
Flavored liquors and cordials may contain non-vegan ingredients, such as milk, cream, and honey.
Although uncommon, carmine may be used as a dye in some red spirits. Non-vegan ingredients may also be introduced to spirits when making cocktails.
Potential non-vegan spirits and cocktails include:
- Campari alternatives. Though it once contained carmine, Campari — a popular red liqueur — is now vegan. However, similar mixers may still use carmine for their red hue.
- Coffee cocktails. White Russians, Irish coffee, and other popular coffee cocktails may contain milk or cream. Baileys, a whiskey made with cream, is also not vegan.
- Dessert cocktails. Some cocktails, such as grasshoppers and mudslides, are blended with ice cream. What’s more, jello shots harbor gelatin.
- Honey-flavored spirits. Honey serves as a sweetener and flavor enhancer in many spirits and cocktails. Almost all drinks with “honey” in the name aren’t vegan.
Remember, this list isn’t comprehensive. Other spirits and cocktails may not be vegan depending on the ingredients used.
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Summary: While unflavored spirits are generally vegan, flavored varieties and numerous cocktails may contain non-vegan ingredients like milk, cream, honey, and carmine.
Tips for finding vegan alcohol
Finding vegan alcohol isn’t always straightforward.
While some companies list ingredients voluntarily, it’s not mandatory in the United States or Europe to do so for most alcoholic beverages.
Regardless, companies rarely list fining agents. Substances that have been used during processing and later removed, such as isinglass and gelatin, seldom make it onto labels.
Here are a few tips for identifying vegan alcohol:
- Ask the manufacturer. The most reliable method to determine whether an alcoholic product is vegan is to ask the manufacturer. Company websites usually provide contact information.
- Look for vegan symbols. Some companies use vegan symbols or text to indicate vegan status on the label.
- Look for allergen statements. Milk, eggs, fish, and shellfish are not only used in some alcoholic beverages but also common allergens. Companies may voluntarily list major allergens, though this isn’t required in the United States.
- Look for a carmine statement. In the United States, manufacturers are required to mention carmine. Look for phrases like “contains carmine” or “contains cochineal extract” on the label.
If you’re still unsure whether a certain alcoholic beverage is vegan, it’s best to avoid those that don’t have a vegan claim on the label.
Summary: If you’re unsure whether your drink of choice is vegan, contact the manufacturer. You can also check the packaging or search online databases.
Many alcoholic beverages are naturally vegan. Nonetheless, some include animal products as ingredients or during processing.
Some non-vegan ingredients may be obvious, such as honey in honey beer or lactose in milk stouts. However, many others aren’t revealed in the name and may be difficult to detect, particularly if they’re used as fining agents to filter or clarify the drink.
Due to lax labeling requirements, manufacturers rarely list ingredients. As such, you should check the product for a vegan icon or contact the manufacturer directly if you’re still unsure.