When deciding to become a vegetarian/vegan, one of the most surprising discoveries for me was that alcohol is not generally vegetarian. Every time I ask in a restaurant or bar if they have vegetarian/vegan wine, I receive looks of disbelief. It is not widely known that this is the case. As if thatís not enough, itís not just alcohol; some non-alcoholic juices are unsuitable for vegetarians too.
You are probably wondering how it can be that alcohol is not suitable for vegetarians, and you may be surprised to find out why. It can be quite a shock to someone who has been an avid vegetarian for many years to discover they have been consuming alcohol that contains animal products which is undermining their effort. Sorry if this you are one of those people!
Alcohol goes through a process of filtering, using finings. The finings are added to the alcohol near completion of the brewing phase. They act to make the alcohol clear, enhance the flavor and remove any impurities before being bottled. There are many different ingredients used including; gelatine, egg whites and shellfish.
Gelatine comes from the bones and connective tissues of cows or pigs, and is often used in sweets, cakes and biscuits. Isinglass is obtained from fish swim bladders, chitin is derived from the shells of crustaceans like crabs and lobsters. Casein is obtained from milk and albumin from egg whites which are both acceptable to vegetarians, while vegans would avoid them. Ox Blood was also used, although this is now banned in Europe due to BSE disease.
Wine or other alcohol that is labelled vegetarian is usually filtered using egg whites or casein which is a milk product found in cheese. Vegan wine is mostly filtered through bentonite or kaolin clay, silica gel or seaweed products.
Ciders and beers tend to be filtered using finings or animal origin so it is always best to check the label before indulging. Some ciders are suitable for vegetarians however; Iíve yet to find one that would be acceptable for vegans. Most spirits and liqueurs seem to be more widely available to vegetarians and vegans due to the finings being of non-animal origin.
I would recommend checking all labels before buying if you would prefer not to drink alcohol which has been filtered using animal derived products. It is always advisable to check red drinks for cochineal, which is from insects. If in doubt and there is no visible suitable for vegetarians listing on the product, I would give it a miss!