Back in 2017, beer drinkers with a taste for compassion rejoiced at some wonderful news: Guinness—the famous Irish stout—had finally gone vegan! Those unfamiliar with how beer is made were prompted to ask, “What does this mean? Isn’t all beer vegan?” While beer is often vegan, it’s not the case for all beer. To make its thick, creamy stout vegan, the Guinness Brewery rolled out a new filtration process that no longer used isinglass, a substance derived from the swim bladders of certain fishes common in beer making.

Isinglass is an old-school solution to the challenge of making beer appear clear once yeast, which converts sugar into alcohol during fermentation, has done its job and remains suspended in the liquid, giving beer a cloudy appearance. The harmless yeast eventually settles to the bottom of the barrel or keg, but brewers wanted a production shortcut, so in the 19th century many of them began adding isinglass, a fining agent that binds to yeast cells and other floating particles and sinks to the base of the brewing vessel. But it’s just one example of why some beers don’t make the vegan cut.

What is beer?

In its purest form, beer is a fermented beverage made from water, yeast, hops, and grain, such as barley, wheat, rice, corn, or oats. Humans have been making and drinking beer for a very, very long time—researchers have found evidence for beer brewing in present-day Israel that dates back 13,000 years. Native Americans were brewing a form of beer from corn, likely for ceremonial purposes, in what is now New Mexico some 800 years ago. Archeologists speculate that beer even contributed to the formation of civilization, since it motivated ancient farmers to settle down and grow the grains needed to make the sacred suds they’d use for feasts and other social gatherings.

The alcohol content of beer varies widely, generally ranging from 5 to 20 percent. Non-alcoholic beer is becoming more common (and better-tasting), with both 0-percent and 0.5-percent alcohol marketed as non-alcoholic. 

Not surprisingly, beer is the world’s third-most-popular drink, after water and tea.

Types of beer

There are more than a hundred types of beer, but most of them fall into two general categories: ales and lagers. Ales are fermented with top-fermenting yeast at warm temperatures (60˚–75˚ F) and tend to have a fruity flavor profile, while lagers are fermented with bottom-fermenting yeast at cold temperatures (35˚–55˚ F) and offer a clean, crisp taste. There is also a smaller category of beer called hybrids, which are brewed with a combination of practices, such as being fermented with ale yeast at lager (cool) temperatures.

Among the more well-known ales are pale ales, India pale ales (IPA), stouts, and wheat beers.

Popular lagers include pilsners, imperial pilsners, Mexican-style lagers, Belgian-style lagers, and Vienna-style lagers.

The most famous hybrid beer is arguably steam beer, one of the few beer styles born in the US. (Since Anchor Stream trademarked “steam beer” in 1982, competing brewers must instead label their steam beer “common” or “California common.”)

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Is beer vegan?

The good news is that most beer is vegan. Unfortunately, some do contain animal ingredients that make it unsuitable for anyone wanting vegan beer. There are about a dozen animal ingredients that may be in your favorite beer. 

Animal ingredients in beer 

These ingredients likely won’t appear on any label, especially when they’re used in the fining process, but here’s a list of the most common (and a few uncommon) animal ingredients found in beer.

  • Albumin – Used as a foaming agent, albumin is a protein derived from animal blood or eggs.
  • Bone char – Burned animal bones used in the filtration process 
  • Carmine – A red dye made from cochineal beetles, carmine may be found in beers that have a pink hue
  • Casein – A milk protein used to clarify beer
  • Chitin/Chitosan – Chitin and its derivative chitosan are substances primarily derived from the exoskeletons of lobsters, crabs, and shrimps, although they can also come from fungi; they are used as fining agents.
  • Gelatin – This fining agent is made from decaying animal skins, boiled bones, and the connective tissues of cows and pigs.
  • Glycerol monostearate – Another foaming agent, glycerol monostearate is typically made from animal fats, although it can also be made from plants.
  • Honey – An animal-derived ingredient sometimes used to flavor beer or raise its alcohol content or as the basis of mead.
  • Isinglass – Perhaps the most common fining agent, isinglass is a collagen made from swim bladders, an organ certain tropical and subtropical fishes use to control their buoyancy.  
  • Lactose – This sugar found in milk can sweeten beer without adding alcohol, since brewing yeast cannot ferment it. It is especially found in “milk” or “cream” stouts. 
  • Oysters – Once used as a fining agent in “oyster” stouts, oysters are now added to flavor them.
  • Whey – A flavor additive made from dairy

Vegan beer fining agents

While some beer makers seem stuck to isinglass and other animal-based fining agents, a growing number of brewers are using vegan options to clarify beer, such as centrifuges, bentonite clay, cold conditioning, diatomaceous earth (a type of sand comprised of fossilized algae), and a seaweed called Irish moss. 

“To prevent chill haze, most of our brands receive a small dose of Irish moss during the boil process in the brewhouse, which helps to precipitate out the haze-causing proteins from the malt,” Ashlee Mooneyhan of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. tells VegNews. “Additionally, our process typically includes plenty of cold time below 30° Fahrenheit, followed by a quick spin through a centrifuge before packaging to remove the remaining material that would contribute to clarity issues. Some beers are also clarified through contact with an adsorbent polymer and passing through a filter to achieve even higher clarity.”

Some brewers have gone truly traditional and opt to store their beer for longer, allowing the yeast and other particulates to settle naturally. It’s a process called “long lagering,” from the German word lagern, meaning “to store.”

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How to tell if beer is vegan 

Brewers make their beer-crafting decisions to create a delicious product, not necessarily to attract vegans, so they rarely label or market their beers as being vegan-friendly or not. That may change as more food and beverage companies recognize the demand for vegan products but in the meantime, it makes finding vegan beers a bit of a challenge. 

Currently, one of the easiest ways to identify a vegan beer is to check the website Barnivore, an online directory that uses crowdsourcing to identify and evaluate the vegan-friendliness of more than 55,000 adult beverages. 

You can also download BevVeg, a free mobile app managed by an international law firm that certifies vegan beer, wine, liquor, and other products. There are reportedly more than one million beverages listed in their database. 

Another—and perhaps the best—option is to contact the brewer directly and ask them if a particular beer uses any animal ingredients in its manufacture. This will provide the most up-to-date answer, and it will remind the company that there is a growing demand for vegan products.

Here at VegNews, we make it our job to be on top of the newest products, the must-try sweets, the gotta-have-it items. And just as important as it is to know what those new items are, we want to share them with you, so that you can be the most current conscious consumer out there. So we present to you the VegNews Guides, a series of lists dedicated to the things vegans love most—beer included. Below is an up-to-date, ever-expanding roster of the vegan beer offered nationwide. 

Abita

Amber
Light
Golden
Jockamo
Purple Haze
Restoration
Turbo Dog
Bock
Red Ale
Wheat
Fall Fest
Christmas Ale
Strawberry Harvest
Pecan Harvest
Satsuma Harvest
Abbey Ale
Andygator
Save Our Shore
25th Anniversary Double Dog

Alaskan Beer

Amber
Pale
IPA
White
Stout
Summer Ale
Winter Ale
Spring Release
Smoked Porter
Perseverance Ale
Baltic Porter
Barley Wine
Raspberry Wheat
Double Black IPA
Alaskan Imperial IPA
Alaskan Birch Bock
Rough Draft Limited
Rough Draft Export

Ale Asylum

Hopalicious
Ambergeddon
Madtown Nutbrown
Contorter Porter
Ballistic IPA
Satisfaction Jacksin
Mercy
Tripel Nova
Sticky McDoogle
Bedlam

Alexander Keiths

Premium White
India Pale Ale
Light Ale
Dark Ale
Red Amber Ale

Arbor Brewing

Big Ben House Mild Pale Ale
Brasserie Blonde
Brasserie Greff Special Reserve
Brune Barrel Aged Brown
Buzz Saw AmericanIPA
Divette
Framboise
Huxell Best Bitter
HXL IPA
JB’s Downtown Brown
Michael Faricy’s Irish Stout
Milestone Porter
No Parking Pilsner
Olde Number 22 German Alt
Red Dawn American Amber
Red Snapper Roasted Pale Ale
Sacred Cow IPA
Tally Wacker
The Drifter

Asahi

Asahi Super Dry
Asahi Kuronama
Premium Beer Jukusen
Asahi Style Free
Clear Asahi

Big Rock Brewery

Grasshopper Wheat Ale
Traditional Ale
Gopher Lager
Lime Light Lager
Jackrabbit Light
Warthog Ale
Black Amber Ale
India Pale Ale
McNalley’s Extra

Blue Moon

Belgian White
Pale Moon
Spring Blonde Wheat Ale
Harvest Pumpkin Ale
Winter Abbey Ale

Carlsberg

Bottled in Canada
Bottled in Sweden

Chimay

Red Cap
Blue Cap
Triple

Dos Equis

Ambar
Lager

Flying Fish

Abbey Dubbel
ESB Ale
Extra Pale Ale
Hopfish IPA
Exit 4
Red Fish

Geary Brewing

Pale Ale
Hampshire Ale
London Porter
Summer Ale
Autumn Ale
Winter Ale
Wee Heavy
Imperial IPA

Georgetown Brewing

Manny’s Pale Ale
Chopper’s Red Ale

Hopworks

HUB Lager
Crosstown Pale Ale
Velvet ESB
Hopworks IPA
Survival Stout
Deluxe Organic Ale

Innis and Gunn

Original
Blonde
Rum Cask
Highland Cask 18
Spiced Rum Finish
Irish Cask
Winter Beer 2011
Canada Day 2011

Labatt

Labatt 52
Labatt Blue
Labatt Blue Light
Labatt Blue Light Lime

Maui Brewing

Bikini Blonde
Big Swell IPA
Coconut Porter
Mana Wheat
Flyin’ HI.P.Hay

Mercury Brewing/Ipswich Ale

Ipswich Ale
Ipswich Oatmeal Stout
Ipswich Dark Ale
Ipswich Summer Ale
Ipswich Harvest Ale
Ipswich Winter
Ipswich Ale Mustard
5 Mile Corn Bock
5 Mile Pumpernickel Rye Porter
5 Mile Stock Ale
Stone Cat Blonde
Stone Cat Blueberry
Stone Cat ESB
Stone Cat IPDA
Stone Cat Hefeweizen
Stone Cat Octoberfest
Stone Cat Pumpkin
Stone Cat Scotch
Stone Cat Winter Lager
Limited Edition

Miller

Keystone
Miller Genuine Draft
Miller Chill
Miller Lite
Pilsner Urquell

Millstream Brewing

Schlid Brau Amber
Iowa Pale Ale
John’s Generations White Ale
Windmill Wheat
Heferweissen
Back Road Stout
German Pilsner
Schokolade Bock
Oktoberfest

Mill Street Brewery

Original Organic
Coffee Porter
Stock Ale
Wit Beer
Lemon Tea Beer

New Holland Brewing

Mad Hatter IPA
The Poet
Sundog
Full Circle
White Mad Hatter
Four Witches Black Saison
Oak Aged Mad Hatter IPA
Black Mad Hatter IPA
Rye Mad Hatter IPA
Farmhouse Hatter
Black Tulip Tripel Ale
Pilgrim’s Dole Wheatwine
Night Tripper Imperial Stout
Dragon’s Milk Ale
Imperial Hatter Imperial IPA
El Mole Ocho Mexican Spiced Ale
Charkoota Rye Smoked Doppelbock

Okanagan Springs

Pale Ale
Hopped Lager
1516
Porter
Brewmaster’s
Summer Weizen
Craft

Peak Organic Beers

Summer Session Ale
Simcoe Spring Ale
Winter Session
Hop Noir
Fall Summit Ale

Phillips

Blue Buck
Hop Circle IPA
Phoenix Gold
Analogue 78
Slipstream
Dr. Funk
Amnesiac
Raspberry Wheat
Hoperation Tripel Cross
Ginger Beer
Skookum Cascadian Brown
Krypton RyePA
Wheat King
Amarillo IPA

Samuel Smiths Brewery

Pure Brewed Lager
Old Brewery Pale Ale
Nut Brown Ale
Taddy Porter
Oatmeal Stout
India Ale
Imperial Stout
Organic Best Ale
Organic Lager
Organic Cherry Fruit Beer
Organic Strawberry Fruit Beer
Organic Raspberry Fruit Beer
Winter Welcome Ale

Santa Fe Brewing

Santa Fe Pale Ale
Sante Fe Nut Brown
State Pen Porter
Santa Fe Hefeweizen
Happy Camper IPA
Freestyle Pilsner
Oktoberfest
Imperial Java Stout
Irish Red Ale

Sebago Brewing

Frye’s Leap IPA
Boathouse Brown
Lake Trout Stout
Runabout Red
Slick Nick Winter
Full Throttle
Hefeweizen
Local Harvest Ale
Midnight Porter
Saddleback Ale
Bass Ackwards Berryblue
Single Batch Series

Sierra Nevada

Pale Ale
Torpedo
Kellerweis
Porter
Stout
Ruthless Rye
Summerfest
Tumbler
Celebration Ale
Bigfoot
N. Hemisphere Harvest
S. Hemisphere Harvest
Estate Ale
Hoptimum
Ovila Abbey Ales

SilverCreek Brewing

Pacific Coast Lager
Hefe-Weiss
India Pale Ale
Porter
Imperial Mai-Bock
Oktoberfest
Vintage Ale

Six Point Ales

Sweet Action
Righteous Ale
Bengali Tiger
The Crisp
Resin
Harbinger
Apollo
Autumnation
Diesel

Tree Brewing

Beach Blonde
Kelowna Pilsner
Thirsty Beaver
Cutthroat
Hop Head

Wild Rose Brewery

Velvet Fog
WRaspberry Ale
SOB
WRed Wheat Ale
IPA
Stout
Seasonal Beer

Yards Brewing

Philadelphia Pale Ale
Extra Special Ale
IPA
Brawler
Saison
Cape of Good Hope
Tavern Spruce Ale
Tavern Ale
Tavern Porter

Need more up-to-date info? Check out our other VegGuides!