joseph holt lager vegan beer

A Guide To Vegan Beer (Vegan Friendly vs Non Vegan Beer)

Famously paired with spicy curries, rich steaks and juicy burgers, beer might not be the first thing that pops into your head when you think about a vegan lifestyle.

That being said, many beers available at the pub today are indeed vegan friendly. However, this doesn’t mean that every pint down your local will be suitable though.

So, what makes beer vegan friendly or not?

Here’s everything you need to know in our guide to vegan beer. You’ll learn why some beers are vegan, why others are not and how to tell the difference.

Different types of beer

We all have a favourite beer – I bet you can imagine yours right now.

Whether it’s a rich stout, a bitter ale or something a little lighter, there are many, many different types of beer styles out there.

All beer has a unique flavour and taste profile, but they generally fall into two categories: lagers and ales.

Vegan friendly beer crosses both of these categories – you can get vegan ales and vegan lagers.

Is all beer vegan friendly?

As vegan beer can fall into any beer category, does this mean that all beer is vegan friendly?

In short, no, not all beer is vegan friendly. 

We’ll go into the reasons why just below.

The good news is that there are plenty of beers – including a whole range at Joseph Holt – which are vegan friendly!

pint of trailblazer stout

Why are some beers not vegan?

Ok, so not all beer is vegan. To find out why let’s start from the beginning.

The four main ingredients of beer – water, hops, yeast and malt – are all vegan friendly.

This would make you think that the finished pint is also vegan-approved, right?

There are two main ways in which beer can be made unsuitable for vegans.

  1. The addition of extra ingredients during the brewing process
  2. The way the beer is clarified with a fining agent

Everyday animal-derived products can be added to the brewing process to create a desired flavour. At the same time, these ingredients will make the beer non-vegan friendly.

Ingredients such as honey and lactose, used in the likes of milk stout, come from animals.

On the second point, animal-derived ingredients can be added after the primary fermentation process to clarify the beer and remove organic compounds from the end pint. These substances are called finings and are primarily added to cask ale rather than keg beer. Learn the difference between cask vs keg here.

One common and effective fining used to clarify cask beer is isinglass. This is a type of collagen that comes from the dried swim bladders of fish.

Isinglass isn’t part of the main brewing process, rather it’s dropped into the cask of beer afterwards to attract the yeast and protein that are circulating around. These compounds then drop to the belly of the cask, where they settle below the tap.

The result is a bright and clear cask beer – just how we like it! You can learn all about cask beer and the brewing process here.

smooth beer joseph holt

So, what makes a beer vegan friendly?

Of course, the answer to this is to not use any ingredients that come from animals – either during or after the brewing process.

If you want the clearest of cask beers, isinglass is currently the best fining agent out there.

However, there are some filtering and clarifying methods that are vegan friendly.

A popular option that is used by most brewers is Irish moss. This is a type of seaweed that’s added to the copper during the brewing process. This natural fining, which settles out after the boil, can reduce haze-causing proteins to help provide a clearer beer.

Super F is a silica-based vegan friendly fining agent. It’s been specially formulated for the rapid sedimentation of yeast, protein and other particles.

There are a couple of other options for producing a clear beer. Firstly, you can centrifuge the beer to separate the solids from the liquid. A second option is to store the beer for longer to allow yeast and other particles to naturally settle.

The main issue with this last method is that your beer won’t be as fresh and may even go bad by the time that everything has settled naturally.

How do Joseph Holt filter and clarify beer?

Throughout our 173 year history, Joseph Holt has used many different methods of filtration and clarification with the goal of producing the best quality beer.

Currently our methods differ depending on what beer we’re brewing.

For our keg and bottle beer, our filtration process involves Diatomaceous Earth. In short, this is a naturally occurring sedimentary rock with high porosity. Filtering with Diatomaceous Earth helps create a clear beer.

We also use Irish moss copper fining to help reduce particle presence.

For our cask ales we use isinglass. We care about serving the best quality beer out there, and isinglass is currently the leader for clarifying cask beer.

In our experience, the vegan alternatives to isinglass don’t give quite the same quality end product.

diamond lager cheers cat and lion

How to tell if beer is vegan?

Not all of the ingredients used in the fining process will be listed on the back of a bottle, can or on the pump clip at the bar. This can make it a little difficult to tell if a beer is vegan friendly.

You also get instances of breweries not labelling their products as vegan friendly – even though they are!

It doesn’t have to be a guessing game though. Barnivore has created a handy tool which tells you if your drink is made using ingredients that are animal-free or not. And the BevVeg app also certifies vegan alcoholic drinks and products.

Another way to find out which beers are vegan friendly is to simply drop your favourite brewery a message.

At Joseph Holt, many of our beers are vegan friendly. These include:

We’ve tried to make it easier for you on our website and online beer shop by clearly stating if a beer is vegan or not.

And, if you’re looking to enjoy some fantastic pub food with your vegan beer, we even have a range of vegan meals on our food menus. Just look out for the (Ve) sign on our menu. Also make sure to check out this best beer and food pairings blog.

So, can vegans drink beer?

Yes, thankfully, those who identify as vegan can still enjoy a top class pint of beer.

However, it’s important to note that not every pint will be vegan friendly due to the ingredients added during the brewing process or how it’s been clarified at the end.

At Joseph Holt, our cask beers are not vegan friendly. This is because we need to have yeast present in the beer during primary and secondary fermentation. Currently, isinglass is the best fining agent to get yeast to settle out, so we can pour you a bright, clean beer.

There’s a huge selection of vegan beers out there though, including our bottle range and keg beers, such as Diamond, Crystal Gold and Trailblazer Stout.

So, on that note, why not head down to your local Joseph Holt pub and try out one of our vegan-approved beers. Or if you prefer, you could enjoy a beer at home by using our online shop.

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As an independent family brewer we are committed to safe and responsible drinking.