Beer: we love it. I don't remember not drinking beer - my parents were of the "let her have a sip" school, and I clearly remember being two years old and scamming for a second taste. But there comes a moment in the life of every young vegan when a slightly terrifying discovery is made: not all beer is vegan.
I was at a veg meetup when I found out. It was maybe a month after I went vegan. I was drinking a Guinness at the time. It was my last Guinness.
What? What the heck would they put in there?!
Well, it's not so much what they're putting in there, with the few exceptions of beer with honey in them (and those tend to be pretty obvious - they generally put the word "honey" right in the name of the beer). It's more that there are some really odd animal byproducts - "finings" - being used in the process of making some beers.
There are two main animal byproducts that pop up. The first is isinglass, which is obtained from the swimbladders of fish and used for clarification. This, I'm sorry to say, is why I will no longer drink Guinness or Murphy's Irish Stout. Not every batch of Guinness uses isinglass, which is annoying and infuriating. Every time I think about this stuff, my mind boggles. It's right up there with "how did we figure out how to eat artichokes," except with about a hundred levels of disgusting piled on top. Who figured out how to get the collagen out of swim bladders in the first place? Isn't there any other way to clarify beer? Oh, yeah, and GUINNESS ISN'T CLEAR ANYWAY. But whatever, I guess I'm splitting hairs, huh?
Then, oh, then there's gelatin. That's right - the same thing that ruins marshmallows and Altoids (which HELLO aren't even chewy) and so many amusingly shaped candies is now ruining your beer! What is the fixation with this stuff? Apparently it is also used for clarification. I think what's actually clear, though, is that using a product made from the skins, connective tissues, and other "leftovers" of "food animals" is ridiculous and unnecessary - particularly given all the great breweries that have no trouble making a wide range of beers without these substances.
The good news is that the majority of beers out there are, in fact, vegan. The ones you have to watch out for are usually odder ones: dark ones, cask ales, special brews, et cetera. And the Brits, well, they just seem to love to use this stuff for reasons unknown. But then, they put fish in all their sauces too, so go figure. (No offense loves - some of my favorite vegans are from the Isles!) The Germans, though, take a special pride in their beer making, and have actually had special laws on the books for centuries regrading what ingredients can be in them. Thank you Germans! (Not sure if this makes up for all the sausages, but it's a start.)
Plenty of great beers are vegan. Brooklyn Brewery, a fab brewery that I'm happy to call local, makes almost exclusively vegan beers, with the exception of one specialty cask ale. Abita, another beer I consider local (as I also consider New Orleans home) is an all-vegan brewery. Blue Moon, Harpoon, Sierra Nevada, and Magic Hat each make a variety of very tasty vegan beers that are widely available, and really this is just the tip of the iceberg (or should I say the bottom of my fridge).
Want to know if your favorite beer is vegan? Find out! Barnivore keeps the most extensive list that I've found, not only of beer but also of wine and liquors. This list of breweries is interesting as well, in that the list's author took the time to contact each one personally.
Do I totally want to make the oatmeal stout brownies from this article? Yes, yes I do. Maybe I will. Maybe you should!
Of course, you could also order these amazing-looking (and -sounding) "drunken cupcakes" from one of my favorite Etsy bakers, Sweet Fritsy. Chocolate cupcake + stout = I vote yes!
Now that you're fully armed with knowledge of vegan beer-ness... are you still sitting in front of your computer?! Utilize your town's public transportation system to get yourself over to the nearest beer hall, and put your newfound education to good (responsible) use!