A little while ago I wrote a post on the importance of being an informed consumer. Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, or an all-out carnivore, it is important to know what’s on your plate and in your glass.
Try to picture my expression of shock and awe upon the revelation that not all booze is vegan (or vegetarian, for that matter). For the two years during which I’d been vegetarian, I’d never once thought about the implications of drinking. That was my safety net, the one thing I didn’t have to worry about upon the idea of a social gathering. Now I can say that ignorance does make one’s life much easier — but as humans that’s not really what we seek, is it? Especially not over knowledge.
My friend Sam was the one who broke the news to me as I almost spit out on my coffee. At first it all seemed like nonsense to me – why would animal products be involved in the wine making process? I understand why honey-flavored beer and liquor wouldn’t be considered vegan, but what harm can grapes do? As it turns out, a lot. Barnivore explains the matter clearly and succinctly:
Brewmasters, winemakers, and distillers may include animal ingredients in their products directly, or they might use them in the processing and filtration.
When making the product, dairy, honey, and other things (including, in one case, a whole chicken dropped in the tank) are ingredients in the final recipe.
When filtering the drinks prior to bottling, companies can use things like isinglass (from fish bladder,) gelatin, egg whites, and sea shells, among other things. These products grab onto the impurities and make it easier to catch them in the filters, though there are many animal-free alternatives in use.
These ingredients don’t usually show up on the label, so the only way to find out is to ask.
The site itself has an impressive directory of vegan-safe alcohol, and will surely help you make your choice next time you’re at a liquor store.
You should also know that organic wine isn’t necessarily vegan, because the label doesn’t guarantee an animal product-free making process (that’s a trap I admit to have fallen into). The one and only almost sure wine to be vegan is natural wine, i.e. wine made with minimal chemical and technological intervention.
If you want to know more about the subject, check out this article by The Kitchn (Discovering Vegan Wine: What! Isn’t All Wine Vegan?) followed by this one on natural wine by Raw (What Is Natural Wine?)
UPDATE: The wonderful Nathalie suggested yet another way to find natural wine in Paris: Où boire des vins naturels à Paris?. Thanks!