How and (Why!) to tell if your wine and beer are vegan

As the old Spanish saying goes: Good wine ruins the purse; bad wine ruins the stomach. And for vegans, it may actually spoil a good appetite. That’s because some beer, wines and other alcohols can contain the unlikeliest ingredients gross enough to make some meat-eaters cringe too: Gelatin, raw eggs, fish bladders and dried blood powder. Seriously.

Back in the day when turning water into wine was not necessarily an uncommon practice, filtration devices were rather limited. And being the resourceful species that we tend to think we are, left-over fish bladders and bone parts seemed to be reasonable options for removing chunks of grape skin or barley bits. We turn practices into “traditions” when really they may be little more than banal systems that probably grossed out our ancestors too. These “traditions” are still in use, and full-blown industries—destructive to the oceans and the environment, not to mention the innocent animals essentially turned into teabags.

If you’re looking to avoid these ingredients, you won’t find them listed on the label. You might not even find them on websites, but know what their fancy names actually mean:

  • Isinglass is made from the swim bladders of fish.
  • Albumen can come from egg whites or dried blood powder.
  • Casein and potassium caseinate are derived from milk proteins.
  • Gelatin is a by-product of bone, which can include the hooves of pigs and cows.

I know. It’s enough to make you need a drink! Some tips:

DO:

  • Check out the kind folks at barnivore.com. They’ve painstakingly researched hundreds of vintners and breweries and compiled a list of more than 1500 vegan beer and wine options. There’s a companion mobile phone app too.
  • Check company websites. They may go into further detail than labels.
  • Ask sommeliers or beer experts like the folks at Whole Foods. They tend to know a lot about their suppliers.
  • Tour vineyards and breweries.
  • Look for Kosher certification. By law, Kosher wines must be vegan.

DON’T:

  • Just because a wine is organic does not mean it’s vegan. You know what they say about assuming…
  • Your waiter or waitress does not need to be grilled about whether or not a 1988 Bordeaux was made with fish bladders. Either stick with something you know is safe or skip it.
  • Don’t give up the search. There are tons of vegan wines out there, and more popping up every day. The more you support them, the more they’ll flourish.

Buy Jill a vegan drink on Twitter @jillettinger

Photo: juanpedraza