The number of people who have gone vegan in recent years has skyrocketed - about 6x (500%) from 2014 to 2021. From 2020 to 2021, the “try it out” month known as Veganuary saw a 25% increase in participants and sales for plant-based foods in the U.S. increased 11% from 2018 - 2019. But what about plant-based beer and wine?
Wait, how are grapes or grains and hops not plant based? Yes, the main ingredients in our favorite beverages are indeed vegan, but there are a lot of added ingredients that are obviously not vegan (honey and lactose) as well as ingredients that are a bit more hidden (like fining agents derived from crustaceans). If you are making sure your next beer or wine is vegan, be it for yourself or your wine and beer loving friends who embrace the plant-based lifestyle, this is the article for you. We’ve identified the main non-vegan ingredients you’ll run into and what vegan-friendly ingredients or techniques you can use instead!
Added to a wheat or cream ale, or with spices in a wintry holiday ale, this is one that can be hard to give up. But there are plenty of good alternatives! If you live in the right region for it, tapping a maple tree for your own maple syrup and using that in your next homebrew is as rustic (and tasty) as it gets. Honey is mostly fructose, while maple syrup is mostly sucrose - which does have a less sweet taste compared to pure fructose. A closer vegan alternative to honey is to use nectar from the agave plant (the Tequila producing plant native to Mexico)- which is mostly fructose, just like honey. Agave nectar can taste like honey in small amounts and at a point can create a tequila-like flavor after fermentation. Also similar to honey, it can take some experimentation to find the right balance between dryness and agave flavor and alcohol content. With either alternative, if adding later in your fermentation (like in secondary) you should consider adding yeast nutrient and/or yeast energizer to make sure your yeast strain can ferment the sugars.
So many beers today have lactose - which can be a problem for the vegan and lactose intolerant beer fans. Milk sugar is unique in that it isn’t fermentable and while there are other non-fermentable sugars and sweeteners (xylitol, erythritol, stevia, etc) that work well in ciders, for beer the most recommended method is to add maltodextrin for the creamy mouthfeel (more than the sweetness) and then back sweeten with dextrose. Taking a look at popular dairy-free “milk” stouts, there are a surprising amount of alternative ingredients used. From adding soymilk in the last 5 minutes of the boil to using coconut milk powder, there are plenty of options but the most popular is one to go nuts for (sorry). Almond flour added in the mash, with the addition of vanilla beans or flaked oats, does a fantastic job replicating a full body mouthfeel and silky smooth texture.
Fining Agents: This one is for homebrewers and winemakers
- To clarify and stabilize wine, winemakers and breweries commonly use animal-derived fining agents such as gelatin (collagen from animal bones), isinglass (a gelatin obtained from fish), casein (a protein found in milk), or chitosan (a sugar from the outer skeleton of shellfish). Most fining agents grab particles suspended in the juice or beer and drop them out of suspension so your wine or beer won’t have a hazy or cloudy appearance. Not just visually appealing, fining agents also remove hydrogen sulfide and bitter flavors. When it comes to wine, most will eventually reach the same state of clarity within months. But if time is an issue, some vegan-friendly options are bentonite clay, limestone, kaolin clay, plant casein (derived from peas and potatoes), silica gel, and vegetable plaques. Read our article How to Clarify Wine for more on options and techniques.
- For beer, we find it’s less common that homebrewers use animal-derived fining agents, but it is more commonly used in breweries during the production process. Pepsin (pigs’ stomach enzymes), carmine (crushed cochineal insects), and isinglass (fish bladders), are used to make beer clearer and brighter. One new vegan ingredient that came to light as recent as late 2021 is “chiber,” a white button mushroom fiber from a company called Chinova Bioworks. The ingredient works 8x faster than other fining agents at settling yeast post-fermentation and can actually leave residual antimicrobial benefits in the beer - keeping it fresher for longer. Since this is currently being tested, we’ll suggest some easy methods mentioned in our article How to Clarify Beer that don’t require any added ingredients, or adding a little Irish Moss in the last 15 minutes of your boil.
From vegans, to the lactose intolerant, and those with shellfish allergies - there are plenty of people who may be looking to switch out these ingredients with something more friendly to everyone. Trying new ingredients and methods may come with a bit of experimenting, but isn’t that the second best part of winemaking and homebrewing?