Bar Tending & Beerspectives
by Matt Martinkovic
Brewsearch & Development -
In today’s world of dietary awareness there are a lot of words and phrases being thrown
around to describe comestible products and their supposed makeup and content. We are all
familiar with such terms as “organic,” “non-GMO,” and “gluten free,” which have specific and
well-known definitions. There are other catch phrases that are intended to imply a greater
level of healthfulness or ecological benefit such as “sustainably produced” or “farm-to-table,”
which are nebulous and ill-defined.
Strictly speaking, when referring to food, the term “vegan”
means completely free of animal derived products of any kind. This includes eggs and dairy.
However it does not mean that the food is organic, non-GMO, gluten free, or anything else
except animal product free.

In the case of beer, the ingredients are all plant-derived except for some specialty beers like
bacon beer, or similar. However, there has been a bit of vegan nit-picking around the edges
lately. It’s a known fact that historical beers, particularly British cask ales, were clarified using
a product called isinglass. Isinglass is derived from the dried swim bladders of fish and
therefore constitute an animal product, which renders beer thusly produced non-vegan.
Other products of a non-animal origin have been used in the same clarification process for
many years, although isinglass is still used by
quite a few small British and American breweries

However, there is good news for those of you who don't want fish in their beer (yes, it is
possible that small parts of the isinglass can slip into the beer be you vegan or not.,
brewing equipment and methodology have all but eliminated the use of isinglass on a
(as in major breweries) basis.  

There has been some misguided double and triple nit-picking by the more activist vegans
who claim that there are two other things in beer that render it non-vegan. The first is
diatomaceous earth – or D.E. – which is used as a filtration medium. D.E. consists of the
skeletal shells of diatoms, microscopic sea creatures, which are mined from ancient
sediments. The argument was that diatoms were fauna rather than flora, and their use in the
brewing process made the beer non-vegan. To my mind that is a huge stretch and the
biologists tell us that diatoms are algal in nature and therefore in the plant kingdom.

Likewise for the triple nit-pick whereby an old debate on the nature of yeast is resurrected.
Way back in the mists of antiquity, in the infancy of microbiology when the nature of microbial
life was as yet not completely understood, yeast was considered by some to be a fungoid and
by others to be bacterial in nature. The debate was short-lived and scientific study
determined yeast to be a fungus, i.e. a plant.

So all you vegans
/vegetarians out there can hold true to your dietary practices and enjoy
any of the fine beers out there without worry or concern.  One final word,keg beers and
lagers are pasteurised and usually passed through Chill Filters, as are canned beers
clarify them. Oh, by the way, most spirits appear to be acceptable to vegetarians/vegans as
they do not tend to involve the use of animal substances


Please continue to support my friends at
The  Northside Lounge
Nik's Wunderbar - Whitehouse Station NJ
Matt Martinkovic is not only a recognized beer authority but a well known ecological writer whose
work has appeared in the The American Midland Naturalist (University of Notre Dame) among other
industry publications.  He also has been an agricultural consultant on, of course, the growing of hops.
Is There Fish In Your Beer?
To all my readers and friends, I want to thank you for all your support during my time at Nik's
Wunderbar and at the Northside Lounge.  I'm moving back to the enviromental/ecological field so
the next time you see me at a pub it will likely be on a stool next to you.  I'll continue to write my
column here on BeerNexus giving you my take on what's happening in the beer world with my
insights derived from many years in the industry.  Cheers!