Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Veggie/Vegan issue

I’m a confirmed meat eater. Before I go on I’d like to apologise to all my vegetarian and vegan friends and readers. Bacon and sausage would be my weakness. I could probably live on cheese alone for my protein were it not for these essential food groups. Fillet steak is nice once in a while, but to be honest, it’s a bit overpriced for what it is. Still, I respect, if remain baffled, by the altruistic stance on not eating things that walk, swim, fly or otherwise move autonomously.

Cask beer almost always contains isinglass. This is a processed fish product. It is very, very good indeed at removing certain particles from beer that might make it cloudy. In particular it helps promote yeast flocculation.

Cask beer, true cask conditioned beer, needs yeast in it for secondary fermentation. At around 250,000 cells per ml the beer will be slightly hazy and most drinkers would find this aesthetically objectionable. The fact that it won’t actually do you any harm, and in some people’s view might actually make the beer taste better, is probably irrelevant. It is a tough job to sell cloudy beer.
It is possible to get beer acceptable bright from cask without isinglass, and there are brewers do it. However, it’s not likely to be something that is universally accepted in the short term within the UK, much as I’d like it to be.

What this effectively means is that, by the strict rules, our cask beers are not suitable for vegetarians or vegans. It’s OK for pescetarian and veggies who ignore the fish product issue, because beer is more important. But principled vegans and vegetarians shouldn’t really be drinking cask beer and I know a few who won’t.

Bottles and keg are a different matter. Despite the fact that we use minimum filtering and in many cases bottle condition it is much easier to get bright beer in these formats without the use of isinglass. For keg we settle bright in tank before we rack. Because the keg is hermetically sealed and positively pressurised there is no need to have live yeast in the keg, although in our case there is very likely to still be a few thousand per ml.

For bottle conditioning the cell count may well be similar to that for cask. If the bottle is not settled a faint haze will be visible. However, the volume is small, and therefore the distance the yeast has to travel to get to the bottom is much less than cask. A very thin and compact layer is the result after 24 hours in the fridge even without isinglass.

Our kegs and bottles are all very suitable for vegans. We can guarantee that there are no traces of animal DNA anywhere in these products. If it used to have eyes, or teeth, or legs, or fins, we ensure that none of its body parts have been processed and slung in our beer for the reasons of scrubbing s beer just a little bit brighter.

I’d love to hear from veggies about their thoughts on this matter. Do you care? Or is beer more important than principles? Or are you actually disgusted that the issue of fish products in beer isn’t more widely broached?


Gareth Jones said...

I think it would be good if more people's attention was drawn to it. While I don't meat meat I can't/don't claim to be 'properly' veggie but I would really have struggled to do my job(s) over the last ten years or more if I had stopped drinking beer & wine.

I'd rather have a haze than isinglass though, nasty stuff!

Alex Routledge said...

Important to note, I think, that isinglass shouldn't end up in the glass, unless something goes drastically wrong of course. In that respect, it's a process aid rather than an ingredient.

Veggies and vegans have the right to know if isinglass is in their beer as it is ultimately their decision, but I know lots of veggies that aren't bothered by it.

Phil said...

Marble went vegan years ago and promptly started trying to make a selling-point of cloudy beers. That said, Marble (cask) beer certainly isn't cloudy now, and I'm pretty sure I've seen the Veg Soc emblem on their pump clips. Perhaps you could ask James Campbell about non-flesh-based finings.

StringersBeer said...

There are silicic acid (?) based finings. Do they re-fine like isinglass? I've used something like for homebrew, but I didn't have to move it half a dozen times before drinking it. If someone can't risk hazy beer, there's stout. We make a very nice stout.

StringersBeer said...

P.S. Haven't we had this conversation before?

Gareth Jones said...

@Alex - Spot on. I think everyone has a right to know what it is they're consuming. I think the Co-Op have it right with their own label wines/beers. I'm not sure why wine & beer should be different to other foodstuffs.

On a more technical note, are bentonite finings no good for beer - I know they're a vegan alternative in the wine industry.

Commercially, while so many people don't even know about the use of non-veggie finings I'd say it's unlikely that there will be impetus for change.

Dave Bailey said...

Alex, whilst you are to some extent right that the isinglass shouldn't end up in the beer in the glass, it invariably does. There will always be a few molecules of the stuff suspended in the beer it's all about proportions. What proportion is acceptable?

However, it's about information. Isinglass is used and is made from fish. People aught to know that.

Phil, it is possible for me to send beer out without isinglass in it. Stringers, in his link, explains very well how this can be done.

Currently, for cask beer, I think it is commercially better to fine with isinglass as most outlets want absolutely bright beer and we can ensure that happens better with finigs. The people who care about fish in their beer is very small. I wonder if more would care if more knew.

I'm quite happy to consider isinglass free beer if I think it is commercially viable.

Liberty said...

From both a personal and a commercial perspective, I prefer unfined beer.

The largest volumes of beer that we send out from any producer in a week always tend to be from Moor Beer, all of whose products are now unfined. The percentage is tipped even further that way when you add Marble, Atlantic and Stringers (it's entirely possible that we will offer four different brands of Vegan friendly beer next week).

The clarity issue is a non-issue for us, it's about education and communication, after all if you've smelled what raw issinglas smells like, you wouldn't want it in your beer. If people are still being told that only crystal clear beer is 'good' then we are creating barriers to the enjoyment of really good beers.

I've been told by the bar managers at certain CAMRA events, that they won't serve beer that I know to be good to drink because it 'hasn't dropped clear' or some other such nonsense, these people give their time freely to support a cause, but in reality the customer experience is spoiled by some faulty beliefs.

This, like the dispense method issue is something of a myth perpetuated by some of the interest groups.

It comes to something when superb British beers like Lovibonds '69IPA' and 'Sour Grapes' can't be showcased to a wider audience at festivals, simply becuase Jeff choses to supply them in a keg. Especially, as I saw at GBBF this year, when inferior foreign keg products are allowed.

Does cloudy beer do you any harm, if the haze is caused by free yeast particles and not a failing in the brew process? NO.

Does cloudy beer taste better? I think that it does, there is some evidence that in hop forward beers the yeast allows more of the hop oils to be present in your pint, which can only be a good thing?

Cooking Lager said...

The one vegan chap I know enjoyed beer prior to his conversion but doesn't touch it now. I suspect clear labeling that a product is suitable for vegans alongside marketing directly to vegans is the key to flogging him one. Does beer have to be on the beer aisle? Why not put a few bottles with the weirdo food like organic quinoa and stuff and see if it shifts? Why not approach hippy and wholefood shops to see if they would stock it?

As for the whole cloudy/hazy beer debate. Really. Again? If you want to sell hazy beer why not just label it up as such? If the punter knows what to expect prior to ordering there isn't a problem. Punters are not ignorant for asking for a pale ale and querying a haze. Treat customers with respect and give them the information to make informed choices and don't moan if the choose something you don't like.

Brewers Union Local 180 said...

I think more animal protein is likely absorbed through the skin simply by walking into a chippie, or any pub with a fryer or a grill, then by downing a pint of fined beer. The gummit has yet to give me.a grant to investigate this assertion.

Paul Bailey said...

I did hear, quite a few years ago mind you - and it may be just an urban myth, that Timothy Taylors use vegetable based finings (possibly Irish Moss type?), in order to get their beers to drop bright.

Unfiltered (slightly hazy) Zwickel Bier has been popular in Germany for quite a few years now. There appears to be a belief amongst UK drinkers though, that a hazy glass of beer will give them the trots the following day. More education is needed to explode this myth, and persuade people to drink with their taste-buds, rather than their eyes.

StringersBeer said...

Not a big market the Veggies - 2-3% ?

But the broader labelling question is interesting.

Ian said...

Dave, it took me years to find out what was actually in beer; naively, I thought it was just water, malt, hops and yeast and I think therein lies the problem, people don't actually know because ingredient labelling doesn’t go far enough.
Certainly, in my experience, when I tell people if they ask, they are shocked and usually disgusted, but some don’t care (fair enough).
Would people still drink beer if they knew? I certainly won’t and I know a lot of people who won’t, but I can’t speak for the vast majority.
Fortunately, after years of painstaking research and some very enlightening conversations with brewers around the country (including your good self, Phil at Brass Castle, Justin at Moor, Stuart at Atlantic, James at Marble etc.), I now know I can get fabulous beers that are animal free. The internet and mail order has certainly helped, as I no longer have to rely on the same few, tired old beers in the supermarket.
Last year, for the first time in many, many years, I was able to have a pint of draught beer in a pub, when the Nicholson’s chain had Moor on draught and it was excellent. They have stopped serving it now, so I have stopped going to the pub again. I’d rather have a bottle of Queboid at home than sit in a pub with a gin and tonic – and I like gin and tonic!
I don’t care whether my beer is cloudy or clear, what container it comes in or how it is served – the important things are: a) it is animal free and b) it tastes great.
We are currently in the midst of the horsemeat ‘scandal’ and people are discovering what it is exactly they are eating (although I remain baffled as to why people who eat pigs, sheep, cows etc. won’t eat horse, but that’s another story) and a large percentage of the public are not happy. I hope the corollary of this is that all food and drink has to be clearly labelled with ingredients (including processing aids such as fish swim bladders) so that people can be fully aware of what exactly they are putting into their bodies and are thus free to make the choice.

city said...

thanks for share.