The number of vegans in Great Britain quadrupled between 2014 and 2019. In 2019 there were 600,000 vegans (1.21% of the population) and that number has continued to increase. (Source: https://www.vegansociety.com/news/media/statistics/worldwide)
This means that more than ever, people are conscientiously objecting to consuming animal products or at least trying to use less. It’s often quite easy to know if food is vegan or not but with drinks such as beer it can be even harder to find out. Of course the main ingredients of beer are generally perfectly vegan; water, hops, barley and wheat.
There are however a few things that can involve animal products further down the line which we will discuss below. It’s important to know about as there are no current requirements for most of these to be listed on the packaging as they are not all classified as ingredients.
The biggest issue with beer for vegans comes in the form of finings. Finings are processing agents that are added to the beer after the fermentation process and before the filtering. They are part of the conditioning process.
Finings essentially make all of the yeast and proteins in the beer stick together and settle to the bottom of the tank meaning you can drop it out the bottom of the tank leaving a much clearer, brighter beer. As the protein mass is dropped out and the beer is later filtered, none of this will actually end up in the final product.
Common finings used in beer brewing are pepsin which is derived from pigs’ stomach enzymes as well as isinglass which is obtained from fish swim bladders. These are still used in traditional ‘real ale’ breweries but most modern breweries (including PIG BEER) are now using plant-based or silicated finings which give very similar results and are completely vegan.
Certain styles of beer include lactose and they’re generally pretty easy to spot because they’ll have ‘milk’ in the style name. Some of the most common ones would be the milk stout, milk IPA and milkshake IPA (even more lactose than a milk IPA). Milk stouts go way back but the milk IPAs are quite popular with more modern and experimental craft breweries, they’ll often also have some fruit in them.
The lactose is used in a powder form as a way of adding a creamy body and a subtly sweet edge to a beer. It was originally used to give a bit more weight to Mackeson’s lower alcohol stout; the alcohol content is what gives a beer a lot of its body so this made it feel more like a full strength beer but with a nice low ABV.
PIG BEER makes two milk stouts (BLAK and CHERY) and a lingonberry milk IPA (LINGO). All of our other beers are completely vegan as we are using non-animal based finings.
A more niche issue is yeast which almost all vegans would be fine with, as it’s not an animal and does not involve any cruelty - but it is technically a living organism so some may choose to avoid it. Yeast is always going to be present in alcoholic beer as it’s the yeast that eats the sugar in the wort and turns it into beer. You can’t have a real beer without some yeast. In fined and filtered beers like ours no yeast would be present in the final product but we have put it to work during the fermentation process. It’s then dropped out and added to the compost before we filter our beer.
Taking all this into account; most modern craft beer is generally vegan unless it’s a style that includes lactose. It is unusual for beers to include the type of finings they’ve used on the packaging as there is no requirement to do so.
The best way to know for certain if your beer is vegan or not is to look out for the Vegetarian Society Approved vegan trademark and if that’s not present you can also check The Barnivore Vegan Alcohol Directory. If all else fails you can always ask the brewery; we’re more than happy to answer any questions you may have about any of our products, just get in touch on our socials or email firstname.lastname@example.org.