I was working at a food event a few years ago, and there happened to be a table dedicated to a particular brand of wine set up next to mine. The representative for the company somehow caught wind of the fact that I’m vegan and said, “You know that wine isn’t vegan, right?” I said something about there being quite a lot wines that are vegan on the market, and she reiterated her first statement of “wine isn’t vegan”. I was kind of surprised by this, because most people are confused when they hear that some wines aren’t vegan, but I’ve never met someone who has insisted that wine isn’t vegan at all. I’m sure it came from some sort of miscommunication from the company she worked for during training. I had to explain to her that while the wine she was selling wasn’t vegan, there are plenty of wines available that are.
“So, why wouldn’t a wine be vegan?” you ask. After all, isn’t it made with just fermented grapes? While sometimes ingredients such as honey or dairy products make their way into alcohol, the un-vegan part of the recipe usually comes in during the filtration process. Winemakers have been known to use things like isinglass (which comes from fish bladders), albumen (which comes from eggs), casein (which comes from milk), and gelatin (trust me – you don’t want to know where gelatin comes from) to filter their vino. There are plenty of filtering agents that don’t come from animals that can be used such as carbon, bentonite clay, limestone, kaolin clay, plant casein, silica gel, and vegetable plaque. I recently inquired about vegan wines at a local wine shop that didn’t have any brands that I recognized, and I was told that using animal ingredients are being used less frequently to filter alcohol these days. I don’t know if that’s true, but I sure hope it is.
So which wines are vegan? There vegan-specific vinyards such as Frey, The Vegan Vine, Santa Margherita, and Our Daily Red, and some wine shops and liquor stores have made them easy to find by having a vegan or organic section. It’s usually best to ask for the brand you’re looking for by name, because if you ask a sales associate for vegan wine, they will most likely have no idea what you’re talking about. In addition to the wines that are purposely vegan, there are a lot of wines that are accidently vegan. There are websites too look up your favorite vino, such as Barnivore.com and Vegans.Frommars.org, but there are so many wines in existence that it’s impossible for a database to hold them all. The best thing to do is to visit the vineyard’s website, or contact them directly and ask. With more and more people adopting a plant-based diet, companies are becoming savvier as to what’s vegan and what isn’t. (Except for the woman I met at the event I mentioned earlier, of course.) One of my favorite wineries is Warwick Valley Winery, which happens to be just a car-ride away, and all of the alcohol they make is accidently vegan.
But beer is safe from animal ingredients, right? Unfortunately, no. Beer makers filter their brews with a lot of the same ingredients that wine makers do. A general rule of thumb is that vegans should avoid British beer and opt for German or Belgium brews instead. German and Belgian beer makers follow strict purity laws that allow for only water, grain hops and yeast in their beers. There are plenty of other beers that are vegan, and as with wine, it’s best to check online or contact the company to find out if your favorite brew is made with animal ingredients or now.
Okay, but what about hard liquor? Fortunately, yes, distilled drinks such as vodka, gin, rum, and whisky are vegan. The distillation process doesn’t require filtration, and therefore the question of animal products doesn’t need to be asked. The general rule of thumb is that if the drink is clear and colorless, it is also animal-product free. If you happen to come across a distilled liquor that has color to it, such as dark run, it’s still safe – the color actually comes from the barrels the beverage was aged in. Most liqueurs are vegan-friendly as well, just avoid those that contain milk or honey. Again, the best way to find out if your favorite booze is vegan is to ask the company.
So now that you know, pour a glass and make a toast to cruelty-free drinks!