Imagine you’re at the grocery store. You check everything in your shopping cart to make sure the ingredients are vegan. You stroll down the liquor aisle and pluck a bottle of pinot noir from the shelf, only to find that the label doesn’t list any ingredients. Instead, it goes on and on about subtle raspberry notes, chocolate overtones and the rich soil of Tuscany. What gives?
You’ve probably noticed that most companies choose not to tell consumers what’s in their products. Some list ingredients on a voluntary basis, but it’s not required. This makes it nearly impossible for vegans to figure out which bevvies they can enjoy. Even if the alcohol provides a list of ingredients, they almost never mention fining agents used in the filtration process.
Chances are, non-vegan ingredients are lingering in that bottle of pinot noir you just bought. The most common fining agent for wine is albumin, a protein derived from egg whites. Albumin helps winemakers achieve the perfect flavour and aroma for their vino. Although albumin is removed from the final product, trace amounts of the protein have been found in some wines.
Another common non-vegan fining agent is bone char—no, we’re being serious here. Bone char plays an important role in many filtration processes by purifying sugar. Yeast has to gobble up tons of sugar in order to produce alcohol, so the quality of sugar matters. You can’t taste the bone char in beer, but it’s still gross.
Up next on the menu of non-vegan fining agents is castoreum. Castoreum is a substance that adult beavers secrete from their castor sacs. (Yuck, we know.) Oddly enough, castoreum is used to enhance the flavour of certain alchy bevvies. Despite these flavour-enhancing capabilities, vegan peeps would argue that nothing is less appetizing than that!
Various parts of fish also take part in the filtration process. For example, chitin is a polysaccharide found in shellfish. Isinglass comes from dried swim bladders in sturgeon, cod and tropical fish. It’s a type of collagen that reduces cloudiness in alchy bevvies and makes the whole process go a lot faster.
Breweries that use vegan fining agents could still add non-vegan ingredients to the final product, too. Honey is a common sweetener, and brew masters ferment it to create mead. Milk and cream are popular in mixed drinks along with their byproducts—whey, casein and lactose. And next time you pick up a bevvy with added colors, remind yourself that red dye probably came from insects called cochineal. Bleh!