There are two kinds of vegans …
One kind avoids wine, because they know its ingredients could include honey and dairy, and because it could be filtered with egg whites, gelatin, fish bladders (a.k.a. isinglass), and sea shells.
The other kind drinks wine, because they DON’T know its ingredients could include honey and dairy, or that the wine could be filtered with egg whites, gelatin, fish bladders, and sea shells.
Those are usually the newest vegans, and I always feel sorry for them when they learn their favorite recreational beverage may not be vegan.
I think the usual hike down the veggie path goes something like this: You become vegetarian (give up meat). You have a few cravings now and then, but to your great delight you discover it isn’t that hard! And there’s such a plethora of meat substitutes – Morningstar Farms, Quorn, Boca – you really don’t even have to learn how to cook anything new! You buy veggie burgers, veggie chicken, veggie corn dogs, veggie BBQ. You trade in your dairy milk for almond, soy, or rice milk – an easy enough switch, especially on your morning cereal. You stop eating eggs. You (mostly) give up cheese, and that’s a lot harder, but you do it and you’re feeling pretty proud. In fact, the majority of the time being vegan is so easy you wonder why everybody doesn’t do it.
And that’s right around the time you begin to realize some of your Morningstar Farm and Quorn and Boca products contain egg. And your frosted wheat cereal has gelatin. Red candies have crushed insects (carmine) as color. Your orange juice was fortified with omega-3s from fish oil. There’s chicken fat in your BBQ potato chips. And almost every vegetable soup you eat away from home is made with chicken broth (unless, of course, it’s made with beef broth). There’s a 25% chance in America that white sugar was filtered with bone char. You ask the waitress if the veggies are cooked in butter or margarine and she says, “Whatever it is, it’s yellow.” Even if the yellow stuff is margarine – made from vegetable oils, right? – unless it’s Earth Balance, it may also contain gelatin. Let’s not forget bread may have milk and/or eggs – or, just as frequently, it may not! Suddenly, your more or less pleasant vegan journey turns into a label-reading nightmare!
It’s usually right about that time some holier-than-thou, self-righteous vegan will tell you that you can’t drink alcohol, either. They will tell you of all the nasty things your alcohol could contain – “Cow hooves! The exo-skeletons of lobsters!”
At that point, you will fling your glass of clear white wine in their face and run to Home Depot to buy the equipment needed to build your very own moonshine still.
OR … you will take a deep breath and consult Barnivore.com.
Barnivore.com bills itself as a “vegan alcohol directory” and is in fact a huge database with over 8,500 alcoholic entries. You can look up a wine, beer, or liquor, and chances are it will be listed in the database as Vegan Friendly or Not Vegan Friendly. If it’s Not Vegan Friendly, Barnivore will often tell you why.
Spirits are the most likely to be vegan. A number of beers are vegan, too, including many of the less expensive, popular ones like Budweiser, Coors, Michelob (except for Honey Wheat), Pabst, and Yuengling. Wines are trickier, as they’re most likely to have been clarified – especially the white and blush wines, where clarity is prized. (That’s why wine snobs … I mean, enthusiasts … hold a glass of wine up to the light. If it’s a white wine they are checking the clearness; if it’s a red wine they are checking the color.) Red wines are more likely to be vegan friendly as clarity is not as big an issue and “legs” and “full bodiedness” are desirable. Of course some of these wines are organic or on the higher end, but there’s also plenty of inexpensive, vegan friendly supermarket wines such as Fisheye, French Rabbit, Kendall Jackson Whites, Menage a Trois, Newman’s Own, Sutter Home, and Yellow Tail Reds. You can even find vegan friendly wines at gas stations – hellooo, Oak Creek!
Interesting fact: Australia and New Zealand require warning labels on non-vegan wines distributed within their own countries. This is due to the concern that people with allergies (to egg, dairy, shellfish, etc.) may have allergic reactions if any of the animal residue from the clarifying process remains in the bottle of wine.
There are also new services popping up like Vegansommelier.com. They offer a small selection of limited production, vegan wines that changes every week, shipped directly to your home.
An alternative to Barnivore and Vegan Sommelier, if you’re in Charlotte, NC, might be to head over to Bean Vegan Cuisine on Independence … they’ve recently received their liquor license and are serving vegan wines and beers, with more varieties expected soon from their distributor. Currently they are the ONLY restaurant in Charlotte with a 100% vegan-friendly bar! (Fern, Flavors from the Garden – a vegetarian restaurant that also offers some vegan friendly food – admits that not all of their wine and beer is vegan friendly. So drink with caution there!) Bean also holds various wine-tasting events – check their Facebook page for details.
UPDATED 8/18/2012 – Great news!!! I’m pleased to say, after I made some inquiries for this blog on Fern’s Facebook page, and after several other people posted questions/comments, Fern added this statement to their Facebook page today! “As GM of Fern, I have never wanted to mislead anyone. It has been brought to my attention that some of my wines may not be vegan. Moving forward, I will promise that a new wine list is in the works and will only have vegan wines. Until then, all staff will have knowledge of which wines are and which are not. Again, I never wanted to mislead. ~Lou”