how to have your vegan beer & drink it, too
take a look at my beer friend. he's the only one i've got...
when it comes to philosophy, there is one salient observation that cannot be surpassed in terms of either poignancy or veracity. i live my life by these words that tumbled so sagaciously from the eldest simpson: “beer friend me good.” (don't come the anorak & ask me to cite the season and episode. it happened.) beer has, indeed, seen me through some tribulations and - so long as i don't invite any cider, wine or spirits - beer and i can depend upon each other. i give beer a purpose and beer renders life that tiny bit more tolerable. no, i don't have a problem. i'm a professional.
before you go grassing me up to the priory, i'd just like to emphasise the fact that i don't drink every day. (the urge to blurt out vaudevillian one liners about 'days that end in y' is becoming unbearable now!) i might if i could - but when i do, i imbibe high quality. if it can be bought in pallets for under a tenner, you won't find me within sniffing distance. yes, i am in the thick of a stalwart brew snobbery that's lasted nearly 20 years, weaned as i was on the microbreweries of the mighty pacific northwest in (o, dear...yes, it's true) the states.
this is not my beautiful hand holding this beautiful beer...
so, when I was asked to spin a boozy yarn for Vegan Food Magazine (sadly, still on hiatus), i thought (once the smelling salts had eradicated the euphoria-induced coma): 'all my wildest dreams are here before me! this – dilettante though i am - is a public service for which i'm reasonably well-equipped. i have useful info - and it's probably my only opportunity to do something worthwhile for society.'
let's journey back through time and space to seattle, washington & my bladder's trial by fire. first love: the vegan-friendly Redhook, discovery of which serendipitously coincided with my decision to be vegetarian. hand-in-hand thus began my twin obsessions for quality food and fine drink. je ne regrette rien. the thing is, at that time, the idea didn't register that beer could involve animal bits. who conceived of such a hellish concept? 'why, here's a cracking idea: let's clear beer with collagen derived from the swim bladders of fish!' isinglass: does it sound like something you want rampaging through your temple? content with my Redhook, its ubiquitousness (along with a number of other microbrews, given seattle's close association with the introduction of this trend - quite apart from that of fancy coffee and billionaire silicon nerds) meant that i'd never fret over the prospect of swallowing swimmers.
when I came to the UK 15 years ago, however, it was a...erm...sea change. CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale) held and continues to hold tremendous sway over brewing methods. they seem still to cling to the notion that British consumers want a clarified beer that is not cloudy – cloudiness being associated with something that has gone off because it has stood too long. however, it's changing - but none to quickly - thanks to trailblazers like Moor Beer , Hastings Brewery, Brass Castle, Freedom, Fourpure, Camden, Hobo, Beavertown & even larger operations such as Brewdog. aficionados and punters alike are starting to accept that beers don't need to be fined and that, as a result of not undergoing a fining process, the resultant beverages are tastier and more complex. quite apart from this, too, is that there exist numerous ways to clarify alcohol without using animal products. Samuel Smith's brewery, for instance (and as just one example), has been using seaweed (carageenan or Irish moss) for most of its beers since 1758 (but, as they make two non-vegan drinks, I couldn't include them in this article). so, fuck you, Guinness & your feeble excuses. there are viable alternatives for your famous stout. you're full of rawmaish. in the meantime, Beavertown's Smog Rocket Smoked Porter suits me.
as conscientious consumers - you know you want to be! - we'd all like to give our money to enterprises that are entirely vegan, right? why should we make exceptions for tipple? and, whilst it may be difficult when out carousing at pubs and clubs to achieve this laudable aim, it's easy enough to buy from vegan breweries at shops or online. you'll be surprised by the high quality of (especially micro) brews when compared to the mass-produced swill that is relentlessly pumped out and passed off as acceptable by the corporate leviathans. it's impossible not to notice that craft brewers, especially, put every last ml of their affection, ingenuity & soul into their creations. everything from the clever names to the lovely labels proves their passion for what they do. not one for labels, even i find myself making exceptions for my beer friends. from the minimalist vintage of Kernel to the bold, post-prohibition art deco of Camden, beer labels are more than savvy marketing tools: they're legitimate design.
deliciousness provided by alesbymail.co.uk
aesthetics notwithstanding, the proof is in the putting...into your mouth, over your gullet and through to your awaiting intestines. here's where this might all go a bit wanky (or, wankier, as the case may be), so just bear with me. also, if you're the owner of a vegan brewery or you're looking to hire a beer buyer: when i say wanky, i mean that you need me to work with you.
here are my best efforts to convey sublime tasting experiences with jumbles of words & letters:
Brass Castle Sunshine IPA, 5.7%
substantial, slightly bubbly head with a good citrus nose – not overwhelmingly so – and with a hops complexity that somehow transposes a fragrance to a feeling of bonhomie. simply put, it tastes of happiness. this is a summertime favourite.
Kernel Pale Ale Galaxy, 5.6%
apricot is what burst from the bottle when i opened it, but the decanted brew was decidedly spiced with a pleasantly bitter follow. there was an impressively creamy froth on this one that took its time to subside.
Camden Hells Lager 4.6%
hops crawled up my nostrils to plant their flag, though the promise of overt hoppiness wasn't sustained on the taste buds. normally, i'd find this disappointing. i'm unabashedly hops addicted. however, i was pleased and surprised by the intricate interlacing of spices. this one will be fondly remembered, despite its thin and quickly dissipating head. i hasten to add, this in no way diminished my enjoyment. i was happily shocked that such a relaxed beer could be so full and well-rounded.
honey, it's a shame!
were it not for the human propensity for thieving off bees, i could have included a number of additional breweries in my article. are you convinced of the necessity of Bee Vomit Lager or Summer Honey Whatsit? no, nor am i. even if the flavour delights the palate, that taste can be achieved without getting the bees involved in our sordid & unnecessary affairs. for instance, Brupond Brewery's Sweet Bee Honey'd Wheat contains no trace of a bee's nectar. sadly, Brupond appears to be defunct, as there's been nary a tweet since 2013 - but we can hardly blame the lack of the little buzzers for a brewery's demise. it's, therefore, tragic that many breweries would otherwise be completely vegan if it weren't for this compulsion to chuck honey at an occasional batch of beer. i'd like to see brewers get more creative with spices, herbs and flowers. it's admirable (or not) to try to distinguish yourself from competitors by devising the quirkiest flavours, but those experiments rarely achieve longevity. anyway, just, please...no more Cocoa Bacon Donut Bocks or Pork Scratching Pilsners, all right? good.
have i managed to convince you of the merits of choosing beer from artisanal vegan producers? experiment for a month and i'm sure that you'll recognise what a false economy it is to go for the cheap, brainless, humdrum mega-brews (albeit, animal-free) that fill you with rude carbs but are about as memorable as the wedding reception (that you didn't attend) of your cousin's cousin twice removed. quality, on the other hand, will kick you in the face with its flavour boot and its higher alcohol content ameliorates the enjoyment. you'll feel sated for longer without having to keep a few tinnies hidden for yourself. sermon over...because i now most certainly sound like a problem drinker.
it's impossible to list briefly every brewery across the globe that qualifies as fully vegan. below, they're sorted by region; but I accept that I will have inevitably missed a few countries, a few breweries and a few tricks. alas, find my best efforts to compile a guide that could never be definitive – and keep yourself apprised of the developments with Barnivore, the online database for all things vegan alcohol. you can always be a part of the action, as well, by contacting breweries and sharing information with Barnivore. a la tienne, etienne!
Little Valley Brewery
(i must stop listing Belgian breweries as there are too many that are vegan!)
La Brasserie de Bretagne
32 Via dei Birrai (the first Italian microbrewery to be certified vegan!)
Black Oak Brewing
Groupo Modelo (Corona, Pacifica)
Pike Brewing Company
AUSTRALA & ASIA
Stone & Wood