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National Vegetarian Week has been and gone once again, and with the usual whirlwind of exchanged recipes, ideas and meat-free alternatives, this year saw a bit of a focus on vegetarian beers.
The question about veggie-friendly beers hit the headlines at the end of last year, as newspapers reported CAMRA asked brewers to explore alternatives to using animal products in beers. Lots of people were surprised, as many people think of beer in terms of hops, barley, water and yeast, without considering further additives.
Lots of breweries use isinglass, which is essentially a gelatine like substance that’s made by drying and processing the swim-bladders of certain fish. It’s part of a process called flocculation and isinglass is still used because it can make beers appear clearer and brighter.
During brewing, yeast will eat its way through the sugar in the brew, creating alcohol, carbon dioxide and a certain amount of sediment. When the fermentation’s finished, some brewers put isinglass in the brew because it binds with any floating yeast particles in a kind of jelly, which then sinks to the bottom of the liquid. Although very little of the isinglass is likely to make it into the pint you hold in your hand, using by-products from animals in the process is enough to make most vegetarians and vegans avoid the beer in question.
It seems, however, that many new breweries are choosing not to use isinglass. While it’s likely that some breweries are sensitive to the vegetarian and vegan message, wanting their beer to be suitable for enjoyment by everybody, others simply think it’s unnecessary. Even with cask beers – the strongest reason many people have for using isinglass – if the beer is treated correctly, any floating particles and haze will simply settle to the bottom of the cask. Isinglass makes the process quicker, but many brewers prefer to avoid putting extra additives into their brew, especially if they’re not actually needed.
Although isinglass may make your beer seem clearer and brighter, the aesthetic might actually come at the expense of taste. There’s a growing belief that while finings may make your beer seem clearer, as they settle to the bottom of the cask, they can also sink some of the taste right out of the pint. Beer with a haze to it does not always mean it’s a bad pint and in trying to make it beer brighter, you could be removing a number of things that help lift its taste.
The good news is that all of Green’s beers are entirely suitable for vegetarians and vegans! The use of isinglass is basically a shortcut that allows breweries to get the beer out as quickly as possible, but that’s not the Green’s way. We care about how our beer tastes; we don’t pasteurise or heat treat and we don’t risk our rich flavours by adding unnecessary products – instead we rely on expertise and great brewing practices to make our beer the most attractive and tempting as we can!