Following a vegan diet or trying to go plant-based can be tricky at first when you're finding out what you can and cannot eat and drink. Depending on how strict you are and your reasons for going plant-based, you may want to know if something contains hidden animal products before you try it.

While alcohol might not be the first thing you’re thinking about when trying to cut out animal products, you may be surprised to find out that some alcoholic drinks, including beer, aren't suitable for vegans: Many use animal products in the fining process. The good news is, while not all beer is vegan, some are and it’s perfectly possible to enjoy a beer while sticking to your dietary restrictions. Here’s what you need to know about vegan and nonvegan beer.

What is vegan beer? 

In its basic form, all beer is vegan. Beer is made from water, hops, barley malt, and yeast, so completely vegan. Lightly roasted malt will produce a very pale beer while deeply roasted malt will produce a dark beer, and the quality of the water is a very important component in beer making. So far, so vegan. The initial process of making vegan and non-vegan beer is exactly the same, so what changes?

Non-vegan finings and additives

Sometimes during the process of beer making, additional things are added which means the finished product is no longer suitable for those people following a strictly plant-based diet. All beer is vegan until, most commonly, finings are added in the casking process. Finings are animal-derived products, either gelatine or isinglass which is dried fish bladders. Simply put, finings drag all the stuff that clouds the beer down to the bottom of the cask, adding clarity for aesthetic reasons. The process gives the beer a nice clear appearance and makes it more appealing to drink. Sometimes lactose is added, and some fruit peels which are waxed with honey, are added to gain particular flavors. Vegan beer is basically beer in its purest form before any additional products are added in.

How to know if a beer is vegan 

If you’re buying your beer from a store, it’s not likely you’ll find the information you need on the label. As it’s not a legal requirement to list ingredients on a label, most producers don’t. Unless the brand is particularly pushing the vegan angle it won’t be obvious, so it’s best to arm yourself with the information about which beers are, and are not, vegan before you buy. You can easily find this information online, on the websites of the beer companies, or by contacting them to ask.

If you’re visiting a brewery or a bar, staff will know which of their beers are vegan and will be able to advise you. Staff in breweries and specialist bars are usually passionate about their products and will be happy to chat with you. The best way to know what you’re buying is to familiarise yourself with vegan brewers. There’s plenty of breweries now that pride themselves on only producing vegan beer, and once you know who these brewers are you can look out for their beer whenever you fancy one, wherever you are.

List of vegan beers 

The following is a list of popular beers that are suitable for vegans. PETA also lists beer Companies That Do Not Use Animal Ingredients, Additives, or Processing Agents here. You can also check out Barnivore, an online resource that helps to identify vegan alcohol.

  • Bud Light
  • Coors Light 
  • Miller Light 
  • Heineken 
  • Corona 
  • Alaskan Stout
  • Alpha Belgian Blonde
  • Chuckanut Smoke Porter Ale
  • Fat Bottom Ruby American Red Ale
  • Full Pint King Kolsch
  • Duck Rabbit Brown Ale
  • Dockside Pilsner
  • Lion Pale Ale (available in Singapore, Cambodia, UK, currently expanding into Indonesia and Europe, and worldwide soon)
  • Neitiv – Malaysian made coconut beer, currently only available in the UK

The bottom line: Finings and additives make some beer unsuitable for vegans so know which brands you can safely drink

As more people turn to a plant-based diet, many breweries are offering at least some vegan beers in their lineup and some new breweries are beginning their journey as vegan only. This also stems from the rising popularity of microbreweries and craft beer producers who can give consumers a wider choice and something a little more unusual. The best way forward as a vegan beer drinker is to do a little research before you buy. Find a vegan brewer you like, visit a brewery or a good beer bar, try a few beers out, and discover a whole new world of vegan beer. 

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