Why Some Wines and Beers Are Not Suitable for Vegetarians and Vegans

Basically beer and wine are made from a grain and grapes, respectively, and fermented by yeast either naturally or cultured. So what is the issue that vegetarians or vegans can’t drink certain types of them?

While both wine and beer are processed almost the same, but with some differences, let’s start with wine first. Once yeast is added to the grape juice, it starts the fermenting process. The yeast starts eating up the sugar in the juice converting it to alcohol. In the process, they multiply in quantity and once there is not enough sugar left to support them, they die and settle to the bottom of the carboy or container.

During the process, tiny molecules like proteins, tartrates, tannins and phenolics are produced and because they are so small are held in suspension, making the wine cloudy. While the suspension is not harmful does not adversely affect quality of the wine, most wine-drinkers like their wine clear.

To clarify wine, wine makers add a “fining” agent that attracts these tiny molecules and once heavy enough drops to the bottom of the vessel holding the wine. Where the issue comes in for vegans and vegetarians is the type of fining agent used.

Two of the most common clarifying agents used are bentonite and isinglass, the former derived from clay, the later from fish bladders. Other agents used are casein made from milk, albumin from eggs, gelatin from animal protein, and activated charcoal.

Bentonite, charcoal, and sometimes casein and albumin are vegetarian-friendly, but only the first two are vegan-friendly. However, there is good news for vegetarians and vegans; there is a movement afoot to not use a fining agent and instead let the wine self-clarify which it will do on its own over time. The downside is that it takes longer to get a wine to market if left to clarify on its own.

Beer

In its basic form, beer is made from four ingredients: water, malt, hops and yeast – all either natural or plant-based. However like wine, brewers also use fining agents as a clarifier, but animal derivatives in beer are also used to control head retention, flavor and coloring. And like wine clarifiers, what they exactly use in the brewing process is not easy to find.

Besides the ones listed for wine, beer makers also use:

  • Diatomaceous earth – derived from sea shells
  • Glyceryl monostearate – animal product used to control foam
  • Pepsin – a derivative of pork also used to control foam
  • White sugar – an additive used for flavor and whitened using bone charcoal
  • Lactose – a derivative of milk