Vegetarian Beer

Have you heard of this? Vegetarian beer is something of which I was personally and blissfully ignorant up until just a couple of days ago.

Let’s review what’s in beer – barley, hops, water and yeast. There are also plenty of beers with other things, especially alternative sources of fermentables like fruit, grains and candied sugar. It all seems relatively vegetarian friendly, right?

Now, let’s review what’s not in vegetarians – meat or any other animal body part like marrow or blood pudding. And don’t forget the vegans who shun anything derived from animals like milk, honey and goat urine.

How could vegans or vegetarian’s have a problem with beer? There are some ales like sweet stouts that contain milk or cream and quite a few beers made with honey. And there’s an obscure ale recipe which Charlie Papazian sites in his home brewing book that involves a whole chicken. But that still doesn’t explain how vegetarians could have a problem with beers brewed today as most brewers have abandoned the whole chicken approach to brewing.

When you make alcohol there are molecular strands of protein that are left behind. These microscopic strands can’t be seen with the naked eye but if there’s enough of them they can leave the brew cloudy. They don’t really do that much to affect the taste or smell of beer but most beer drinkers prefer a clear beer to a cloudy one.

There are a variety of ways to clean out this cloudiness with today’s technologies but the traditional and oldest solution is to add what are known as fining agents. These are generally organic materials that chemically bond with the strands of protein then drift to the bottom of the fermentation vessel. The clear beer can then be drained off of the top leaving the protein ladder fining agent behind. Lots of things can be used as fining agents including casein (comes from animal bladders; cheese makers use casein, too), egg whites, isinglass (something that fish use to help them swim right-side up), gelatin and even blood.

Although other methods of clearing beer exist, many brewers prefer to use the same fining agents that have been used for generations. Isinglass, which remains one of the most popular fining agents, is a by-product of the fishing industry. I believe that Red Lobster, Chicken of the Sea, and Long John Silvers are going to be around for a while so why not make use of their industry’s leavings rather than just throwing them out?

I’m a meat eater so I haven’t lost any sleep over this but there are those out there that have. And they’ve put together lists of beers that they find acceptable. Check out Vegetarian food, beer, cider and wine and The Vegan Booze List.

As for me, writing this entry has put me in the mood for some honey-glazed pork ribs with a sweet stout so I’m headed to the kitchen. Cheers!

One Comment on "Vegetarian Beer"

  1. Drinkin Joe December 28, 2007 at 2:32 pm - Reply

    hahaha ‘Vegetarian beer.’ Vegetarians get mad at all kinds of stuff. Cool site by the way.

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