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Booze Picks for the Veg-Set

Teetotalers don’t need to read on, but for the rest of us… Might we be imbibing animal products with our beer and wine?

Vegans, vegetarians and those concerned about healthy eating as well are used to reading the fine print on food labels, since whey could be lurking in that lovely loaf of bread, and bacon bits could be swimming in the baked beans. But we don’t often think about the spoilers that might hide in our alcoholic beverages as well.

Scanning the label on the bottle doesn’t always help. That’s because in many cases the animals enter in at the processing stage but not into the finished product. For example, it’s very common for vintners to “finish” their wines by filtering them through isinglass, a fancy term for the bladders of sturgeon fish. Other clarifying agents include egg whites and gelatin.

When it comes to ingredients, cream liqueurs are pretty transparently un-vegan. There is a variety of beer called milk stout which is just what it sounds like. Meanwhile, honey can be fermented and turned into a type of wine called mead. But perhaps the most blatant offender is a 16th century invention called cock ale which, along with raisins and cloves, includes cooked chicken and crushed bones.

Thank goodness for the folks at who have started a list of vegan-friendly (and unfriendly) beer, wine, and liquor selections. This allows us to get the scoop on 6,715 different alcoholic products, at last count. The list is growing daily.

There are also drink companies which wear their veganism proudly on their sleeve. One of my favorites is Frey Vineyards in Mendocino County, California. It bills itself as America’s first organic winery. The clarifying agent used there is bentonite, a natural earth clay. In addition to being safe for vegans, these wines can also put a smile on the faces of people with wheat or gluten allergies, celiac disease, and lactose intolerance.

Another top pick is Girasole. One should pronounce that with 4 syllables, because the name is Italian for sunflower. The flowery logo on the label points to earth- and vegan-friendly credentials. Also headquartered in Mendocino County, Girasole uses organic grapes that are hand-picked on vineyards that have been in the same family for more than 50 years.

Just as more and more food companies are wising up and placing a “V for Vegan” symbol on their packaging, a few alcoholic beverage companies are beginning to do the same. And that “V” can be found on invitations too: the latest twist on cocktail parties is to make it a vegan wine-tasting event (including vegan hors d’ouevres, of course).

Which is where I was recently. In August, the U.S. Veg Corp sponsored an evening of vegan mixology at the XVI Lounge in New York City. Billed as a Rooftop Mingle for Animals Asia, proceeds were donated to a foundation advocating for the rights of animals in the Far East. It was a great chance to discover some sassy new cruelty-free spirits!

I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for similar opportunities, and I urge you to do the same.

Image Source:Geoffrey Fairchild/Flickr

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