The topic might seem bemusing, as one would probably not anticipate animal products to be used in beers, wine, and spirits, whether as ingredients or processing agents. Despite their widespread use, the wider alcohol industry has seen a slower uptake in the introduction of vegan product labels or supply-chain certifications. This could be explained in part by the findings of a 2018 European study which suggests that consumers show a low level of knowledge of wine’s nutritional properties and, consequentially, its ingredients.
However, the market of vegan alcohol represents a growing segment as the vegan certification on certain products, as well as vegan visual aids in-store, and filtering options on online platforms, is increasing the awareness of shoppers who might have not considered such products to contain animal derivatives.
While many alcoholic beverages are vegan by default, animal products are often used as ingredients in beer, wine, and spirits. Dairy products such as milk or cream are sometimes added to beer and liqueurs for texture or flavouring in products such as Baileys, while whey, casein, and lactose can be used as ingredients in the brewing of milk stouts. Honey is also used as a sweetener, or fermented to obtain meads. Colouring of tinted beers and red liquors or cordials can include carmine (also known as cochineal), a red dye extracted from the dried bodies of certain female scale insects native to tropical and subtropical America. Campari, the Italian aperitif, amended some of its production in 2006 to an alternative colouring, but the dye is resurging in artisanal spirits.
Fining and processing
Fining in alcohol production is the process of filtering impurities and improving clarity resulting from sediments or ingredients suspended in the liquid giving it a cloudy appearance. Examples of products needing fining include certain cask ales and pasteurized beers due to suspended yeast, and wines with tannins. Commonly used animal derivatives used as clarifying agents at this stage include albumin (egg white protein), isinglass obtained from the dried swim bladders of fish, gelatine sourced from cow or pig collagen (skin, bones, cartilage), and skim cow’s milk.
Vegan alternatives exist and include bentonite clay, silica gel, or proteins derived from wheat, corn, legumes, potatoes, or other plants, and processes including centrifuging and filtering through paper. Château Dauzac, a domaine in the Bordeaux region of France, is the only Grand Cru producer with a vegan certification.
Growth in dairy-free liqueur
As this trend takes hold, products are being developed including established brands offering a vegan labeled alternative to a traditional offering. What is interesting in the branding of the Baileys Almande and liqor 43 Horchata is the embrace of the vegan label on the products and, in the case of Baileys, throughout their messaging. The Baileys promotional website includes words like “Why should non-vegans have all the fun?” and “Vegan Baileys. Yes, we know. Vegan. Baileys. A joyous blend of sweet almond oil, cane sugar and a touch of real vanilla. Creamy as anything, but with zero dairy…”, openly targeting the vegan segment with this alternative product, while Aihiki’s messaging is purposefully built on its promise of a vegan, dairy-free, and plant-based product. Amarula is also in the process of launching a plant-based, vegan-certified version of its liqueur which traditionally contains dairy products.
Regulations and certifications
While the European Commission is proposing to introduce the mandatory labeling of ingredients and nutrition declaration on alcoholic beverages, current requirements are not required for products with above 1% of alcohol content. In the United States, statements on carmine or cochineal extract are required, while the governance of product labeling makes it voluntary to list ingredients on most alcoholic beverages, and processing agents (used for fining or filtering), which do not remain in the product, are unlikely to be included. As such, it is through direct communication with brands, or voluntary product labeling, that individuals wanting to purchase products devoid of animal involvement can find information. However, resources have been consumer-created in order to support the purchase of vegan products.
Consumer-developed community resources
It has become common for groups of consumers to create helpful resources for their community. The vegan community makes use of the application HappyCow to crowdsource global information on the availability of vegan food outlets, and it is therefore unsurprising that information on the alcohol industry is supported by mobile applications and websites such as Barnivore and BeVeg, which also has a certification program.
On a personal note
I am personally very excited when I discover a new vegan alternative to a traditionally non-vegan product, or when I see a vegan section within my local liquor store or find a vegan label on a product. It will, for me, always result in a purchase, and often on purchases for friends and family members.
There’s a lot more where that came from! If you want to work with me, feel free to get in touch here.