You may not know it, but beer, that fermented and beloved
beverage, has been enjoyed for thousands of years; it’s just a
relatively new arrival in the West.
Some of the earliest known records of human writing describe the making
and drinking of beer. Ancient Mesopotamian clay tablets depict the gathering
of barley, its mashing and fermentation. Early pictograms show bread
being baked, crumbled into water, then made into a beverage, which was
recorded as making people feel “exhilarated, wonderful and blissful!”
Recent excavations near the ancient Egyptian pyramids at Giza reveal
cities of artisans who lived with their families alongside where they
worked, sculpting, building, painting, etc., to construct the gigantic
monuments of the pharaohs. Archaeologists have uncovered dozens of bakeries
and breweries. It seems the pyramids weren’t exactly built on
blood, sweat and tears; it was something somewhat less dramatic: beer
As with coffee and the works of Aristotle, western Europeans were introduced
to beer through the Crusades—by the very heathens they fought.
Returning crusaders made pilgrimages to monasteries and brought samples
of this elixir—and industrious monks caught on quickly. One of
the earliest monasteries to brew beer was Abdij ter Duinen (Abbey of
the Dunes) founded in Belgium in 1107, and breweries subsequently popped
up all over Europe—testament to its new status as a staple of
life. This monastic brewing tradition survives today in what are known
as Trappist beers.
The Good and the Bad
For vegan beer drinkers, there’s good and bad news.
First the good. Generally, animal products are not used in making beer
in the U.S., except for a few brewers who follow some traditional English
or cask-treated recipes. German purity laws, based on the Bavarian Reinheitsgebot
established in the 16th century, actually forbid the use of ingredients
other than water, grain (barley or wheat), hops and yeast; so (assuming
brewers abide by this), it’s a safe bet German beers are vegan.
The same is true of Belgian beers. We asked Belgium’s most renowned
beer yeast culture expert, Roger Mussche, about it and got this response:
My friends, this is a little joke for us. We are real brewers, not from
the Anglo-Saxon world! It means that we never use any part of an animal
in our beer like the Commonwealth people do... No foam-control agents,
especially glyceryl monostearate (it’s much better to make French
fries with it). So we are more than vegan! What a world...
Now the bad news. Many traditional British beers use isinglass for clarifying,
which is usually decanted after the brewing process; they may also use
gelatin or casein. Some also use animal products, such as glycerin,
to control foam consistency.
Sadly, we can put the debate over Guinness to rest. Information obtained
by Satya reveals that—it’s true—Guinness
stouts are not vegetarian. They’re not “full of fish guts”
as some rumors suggest, but they use isinglass for fining. The London
Guinness Communications Centre responded to our query:
All Guinness brands are free from animal matter. However, isinglass,
which is a by-product of the fishing industry, is used as a fining agent
for settling out suspended matter in the vat. The isinglass is retained
in the floor of the vat but it is possible that minute quantities might
be carried over into the beer.
Happily, some of the greatest British beers are vegan, like those of
the Samuel Smith brewery, which was founded in Yorkshire
in 1758 and is still family-run—now in its fifth generation. Samuel
Smith beers are widely recognized as some of the world’s finest,
and are regularly awarded medals at beer competitions. They were first
introduced to the U.S. in 1978 by Merchant du Vin, an importer of fine
beers. Samuel Smith is probably most famous for its dark, silky Oatmeal
Stout (which used to be prescribed to lactating mothers), a style of
beer that had gone out of fashion in the early part of the 20th century
and was reintroduced by Samuel Smith in the early 1980s. Samuel Smith
also creates two organic beers—a lager and an ale. My personal
favorite is the creamy Taddy Porter, named after the hearty train porters
who regularly drank and served it.
A friend of mine had gone through life thinking beer was yellow watery
stuff that kids drank just to get drunk, but on a whim, he tried Samuel
Smith’s Oatmeal Stout. He is now a certified brewmaster who makes
some of the best home-brewed beer I’ve ever tasted—my current
favorite is “Uncle Paul’s Martian Ale” (which is a
deep red of course!).
Organic Beer—A Budding Industry
Last year, sales of organic wine and beer shot up a whopping 56 percent.
Here’s a round-up of some of the tasty beers out there, all of
which are vegan.
For those who appreciate organic beer, Wolaver’s Certified
Organic Ales are probably the best known. Founded in California
(newly re-located to Vermont) as a specifically organic microbrewery,
Wolaver’s makes three flavorful ales: a Pale, an India Pale, and
a Nut Brown. Brewmaster Steve Parkes recently revealed to Satya that
Wolaver’s has perfected a vegan organic Oatmeal Stout that should
be available in bottles and kegs by the end of November (watch out Samuel
Smith!). Wolaver’s ales are sold in stores that sell organic products,
including the Whole Foods chain, but they are increasingly found in
mainstream supermarkets as well. If you’re lucky, you’ll
find Wolaver’s on tap at a growing number of drinking establishments
nationwide. (Note: the Wolaver’s cask-treated ales, which are
not vegan, are only offered in a few specialty pubs that can accommodate
Germany’s Pinkus Muller is probably the world’s
first brewery to brew with only organically grown barley malt and whole
hop blossoms. Still family-operated, the brewery creates classic German
beers: a slightly bitter Pilsner, a golden Münster Alt or ale,
and a traditional Bavarian Hefe-weizen or wheat beer.
Other American microbrewers are making organic brews or including organic
ingredients in their beers. Northern California’s Butte
Creek Brewery is supporting this budding industry with their
Organic Ale and Porter. Delaware’s curiously named Dogfish
Head Brewing Co. bottles a flavorful Chicory Stout that features
organic coffee beans.
It’s only after you first taste it that you’re hooked forever:
fresh beer—it is simply the best. When I was young, my family
visited Amsterdam every spring and on the agenda was always a visit
to the Heineken brewery. We’d tour through the heady, yeasty smell
of the brewery to the reward: orange soda and cookies for the kids,
and all the fresh beer samples you could drink for the adults. My uncle,
a devotee of the Anheuser-Busch collection, would let us kids have a
taste, while exhorting his bliss. After that, Busch just wasn’t
You’d be surprised how many independent breweries are around,
the survivors of the microbrewery movement of the 90s. Here in New York,
there’s the ever-growing Brooklyn Brewery [see
interview with Stephen Hindy], with its Lager and Brown Ale widely
available on tap; and its seasonal Black Chocolate Stout in six-packs
at my corner deli. The Heartland Brewing Co. (35 Union
Square W.; 212-645-3400), which has brought a taste for fresh beer back
to NYC, serves classics like Red Rooster Ale and Harvest Wheat in its
four brewpubs. Heartland is also known for its seasonal beers, like
the spicy Smiling Pumpkin Ale, which, when combined with their hearty
Farmer Jon’s Oatmeal Stout, creates a tasty “Stumpkin.”
Who would have thought? Heartland beers are all brewed in Greenpoint,
Brooklyn, under the watchful eye of head brewer Kelly Taylor.
A new discovery is Long Island’s Blue Point Brewing Co.
of Patchogue, an independent “neighborhood” microbrewery,
as they put it. Visitors are encouraged to tour the brewery and taste
the beers. They promote recycling by offering half-gallon “growlers,”
glass jugs that can be washed and refilled at a discount. “Fresh
beer is best” is their slogan and they’re not kidding—their
growlers have expiration dates on them! Blue Point beers have a shelf
life of roughly eight weeks and are found across Long Island and distributed
to local 7-11 stores. Predictably, the Oatmeal Stout—rich, dark
and chocolatey—is a personal favorite, and we’ve picked
up a few “growlers” of it at our local beer store. Sources
say they are developing an organic beer that will hopefully be available
early next year.
Don’t know much about beer?
A good place to start is Merchant du Vin,
which has been importing handcrafted beers for over 20 years, like Samuel
Smith and Pinkus Muller, as well as Ayinger, unique lambics by Lindemans,
and Duinen’s Abbey ales and Orval Trappist ale.
Don’t know who your local beer-makers are? The Association
of Brewers’ website, www.BeerTown.org,
can help you find them. Type in the state and any other information you
know for a list and contact information.
Want to make your own? Try DIY home-brewing: Seven Bridges Coop,
the organic home-brewers coop, has everything you need. You can purchase
ingredients and equipment online; find beer recipes; and take a “virtual”
home brewing class (www.breworganic.com;
In Brooklyn, there’s something of a “library” of beers—Bierkraft,
a store with hundreds of beers and a friendly, knowledgeable staff (191
5 Ave., Park Slope; 718-230-7600; www.bierkraft.com).
They host free beer tastings—suitable for newcomers and connoisseurs
alike—to introduce beers, with talks by beer-makers and staff members.
To find out what beers and wines are vegan, an updated edition of the
extensive Animal Ingredients A-Z is forthcoming from
AK Press (www.akpress.org)
in February. —C.C.
Heartland Brewing Co.
While you might be familiar with the delicious brews served up by Heartland
Brewery, a conversation with Brewmaster Kelly Taylor will shed some more
light on what goes into the beer behind the scenes…
Heartland beers are brewed at Greenpoint Beerworks in Brooklyn, NY. While
I knew that no animal products went into the beer, I was curious about
where the ingredients were procured, and what happens to the waste once
the process is complete. Greenpoint gets its grain from the Breeze Malting
Company, a family-owned company in the Midwest that is a major grain supplier
to breweries nationwide; and the hops come from the Pacific Northwest.
What happens to the spent ingredients from Greenpoint brewery? Mr. Taylor
explained that the used malt and hops are picked up by local farmers for
use as a feed supplement for animals, as well as for mulch in gardening
and agriculture. I was also surprised to learn that used grain is good
for landfills, because it is excellent at aerating the soil and promoting
the biodegradation process. —B.G.