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Vegan Beer?

From The Iron Horse Brewery Blog

Vegan Beer?


At first the term “vegan beer” may seem unnecessary. Afterall, beer is made with four main ingredients, water, malts, hops and yeast. Those four ingredients are all vegan friendly but there is some debate or rather confusion as to what the definition of vegan is or what beers are considered vegan.

A lot of the confusion comes from the use of yeast in beer. If vegans don’t eat living things how can they eat yeast since it is a living micro-organism? It’s a good question but the answer is fairly simple. Yeast has no central nervous system so there is no scientific capacity to experience pain. What’s more is that yeast is classified as a fungus just like mushrooms. The moral grounds for being a vegan often include avoiding suffering. Yeast cannot suffer, therefore vegans get the go-ahead.

Although the initial ingredients are pro-vegan there are other aspects of brewing that make some styles of beer non-vegan. After the ingredients are all added, beer is often clarified using animal products. For example, until recently, isinglass was used to clarify Guinness beer. Isinglass comes from the dried bladders of fish. Almost all cask conditioned ales use isinglass as a clarifier, although it is more common in England than in the U.S. Casein, a protein found in cow’s milk, charcoal produced from animal bones, gelatin made from animals and diatomaceous earth from fossils and/or sea shells are also used as a clarifiers. All of that sounds like fancy vegan nonsense but the point is that it’s often what’s used in the clarifying process that makes a beer non-vegan. Animal products are also used to help with head retention, visual aesthetics and unique flavors. Below is a list of ingredients seen as non-vegan that are frequently found in beer according to

Insects – Made into dyes and used for coloring.

Glyceryl monostearate – Animal derived substance used to control foam.

Pepsin – Also used to control foam; it is sometimes derived from pork.

White sugar – Flavor additive often whitened using bone charcoal.

Albium – Refers to any protein that is water soluble. Most common type in brewing is serum albumin, which is taken from animal blood.

Lactose – Beers labeled as sweet, milk, or cream stouts may or may not contain lactose.  Sometimes the description refers to the texture and not the ingredient.  It’s best to double check these to be sure.  Milk chocolate is common in certain styles, but some so-called “chocolate” porters or stouts actually contain no real chocolate at all. Some malted barley is called “chocolate malt” simply to describe the flavor the roasting imparts.


So where do Iron Horse beers mix in? We don’t use any animal products in clarification or foam control. And there aren’t any animal additives in our beer. There are a couple of IHB beers that aren’t vegan friendly though. Cozy Sweater (a vanilla milk stout) has lactose in it. High Five Hefe has honey in it, another debated topic in veganism.

Honey is stored in bee hives for the bees’ own purposes, it’s not “bee waste” that we happen to enjoy consuming. So when beekeepers collect honey they are stealing it from the bees. Along with that, beekeepers temporarily remove bees from their home to get the honey. Even the most careful beekeeper won’t be able to avoid squishing, hurting and killing bees in the process. In truth, honey probably isn’t a top concern for most vegans but it’s consumption still contradicts the moral philosophy behind veganism.  

So if you’re a vegan, we don’t care. Don’t tell us about it, just stay away from High Five Hefe and Cozy Sweater.


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