By intuition alone, one might assume that all cocktails are vegan, since most types of liquor are derived from grains, vegetables, and fruits. However, some types of liquor actually do contain non-vegan ingredients or use animal products during processing and filtration. Even if they aren’t labeled on the bottle, dairy, honey, isinglass (a fish-derived clarifier), egg whites, silk, and even seashells can make their way into beers, wines, and spirits, frustrating those who want to live boozily and cruelty-free.
Fortunately, websites like Barnivore and veganproducts.org have done most of the brow-furrowing research for us by contacting many beer, wine, and liquor companies and inquiring about the vegan status of their products. The bad news is that many varieties of beer and wine contain traces of animal products. But wait! The good news is that the vast majority of “hard” alcohol is vegan, with the few exceptions being primarily specialty and cream liqueurs. Even better, the varieties that are off-limits can often be replicated with vegan ingredients.
The Old Switcheroo
For example, Irish cream liqueur typically contains dairy, but can be whipped up vegan-style with a few simple ingredients. This recipe for Vegan Baileys calls for coconut milk and coconut cream, brandy, espresso, and chocolate syrup, and the sweet results can be enjoyed in Irish coffee, grown-up hot cocoa, or an Irish Car Bomb. For the latter, substitute the Guinness—which contains isinglass—with a vegan-friendly alternative like Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout or Lagunitas Brewing Company Imperial Stout, and then bombs away.
Another drink that can be problematic for plant-based diets is the White Russian, which is traditionally made with milk or cream, coffee liqueur, and vodka. Fortunately for veg Big Lebowski fans and Kahlua enthusiasts, the dairy-free rendition, El Duderino, substitutes soy creamer for an easy fix. The hazelnut, mocha, and vanilla versions of Kahlua are also vegan, so any of these flavors can be used to add some pizzazz to a Vegan Mudslide.
Infuse Your Booze
Vegan cocktails go above and beyond just substitutions. How about infusing some hooch with your favorite fruit or vegetable? It’s easier than you think to customize your own flavor of vodka, gin, sake, or light rum. You can also incorporate herbs, spices, tea, or peppers to add an extra burst of flavor.
First, start with one liter of vodka or another spirit of choice. A middle-shelf brand that is smooth yet versatile will yield the best results. Absolut and Stolichnaya would both fit the bill, and are confirmed to be vegan. You will also need an airtight jar or bottle with a sealing lid. Next, choose your infusions. Fruit is the most basic and popular choice, but feel free to get experimental with more offbeat ingredients like ginger, cucumber, cinnamon, basil, garlic, or vanilla bean.
For 1 liter of vodka, you will need about one to three fruits (fresh, avoid canned or prepared), one or two fistfuls of fresh herbs (or half that amount if dried), two to four handfuls of berries, or varying amounts of peppers or herbs depending on how powerful you want your potion to be.
After washing all of your ingredients, slice or crush them to increase surface area and speed up the process of infusion. Berries can be left whole, but stems should be removed and their skin should be gently bruised. Place the ingredients in a clean, airtight glass container and fill to the top with the vodka. Place your concoction in an area away from direct sunlight and wait a few days. Citrus fruit, mint, and fresh herbs should take about three to four days, whereas berries, melon, stone fruit, and mangoes may require a week to release their full flavor. For mild flavors like pineapple and lemongrass, up to two weeks may be needed to fully infuse. Fruits will continue to ripen during the process, so if you see them start to brown in the jar, replace them with fresh ones.
When the time is up, enjoy your custom elixir straight or mixed. Try the aforementioned El Duderino with cinnamon-vanilla vodka, a Bloody Mary with a kick of habanero and garlic, or a cucumber-basil gin and tonic.
With a little bit of creativity and experimentation, vegan cocktails can go above and beyond typical bar fare. By keeping up on which liqueurs are veg-friendly and experimenting with mixers and DIY spirits, you could be the next great vegan mixologist.