If you’re like us, there’s a burning question you’ve been dying to get an answer to ever since laying your eyes on your first meatless burger: Can vegetarians and vegans drink alcohol? We kid you not, this is a serious question plaguing those new to the vegetarian lifestyle but still wanting to slam one down every now and again.
The vegan lifestyle is one that is complicated and rife with contradictions. That’s one of the reasons why this question is asked so often. But rest assured there are very specific answers provided by different vegan societies and organizations around the world. We’ll try to make sense of it all here.
Is there a difference between a vegetarian and vegan?
The first thing making both the question and its answer so complicated is the fact that people define the terms differently. Some use “vegetarian” and “vegan” interchangeably, while others see them as distinctly different.
In the most common use of the term, a vegetarian is someone who simply refrains from eating meat, poultry, and fish either as an hors d’oeuvre or an entrée. But, according to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, a vegan is someone who restricts his diet even further.
Apparently a vegan is a “strict” vegetarian who not only adheres to the no-meat principle, but also refuses to consume anything even slightly related to animal products. That would include dairy, as well as processed foods where animal products are used either as ingredients or in the manufacturing process.
How are the terms applied to alcohol consumption?
If we use the definitions explained in the previous section, a vegetarian could drink a pretty wide range of alcoholic beverages including beer, wine, mixed drinks, and fancy-pants wine coolers. The true vegan is not so fortunate.
According to the UK’s Vegan Society, it’s not uncommon for beverages like beer and wine to be clarified using a variety of animal products. A true vegan would not be caught dead drinking any such drinks unless, of course, someone slipped him a non-vegan “Mickey” without him knowing.
Examples of animal products used in the production of alcoholic beverages include gelatin, casein, chitosan, isinglass, and egg albumen. We have no idea what any of these things are so feel free to use your imagination as needed. We think it goes without saying that, the less we know about how wine and beer are clarified, the better off we all are.
If vegetarians and vegans can’t drink beer, what can they drink?
Given that vegetarians and vegans are so picky, it’s easier to say what they can drink than what they can’t. A good place to start is with distilled drinks like vodka, whiskey, and rum. The very process of distillation requires no clarification and therefore, no animal products either.
Quite to the contrary, distilled liquors often come out of the still clear as water. When a distilled product does have color, it’s likely been added after the fact by the manufacturer. Sticking with clear distilled liquors almost always guarantees a vegan-friendly drink.
In the case of a colored distilled liquor, the question becomes one of what was used to color it. Using rum as an example, there are dark rums that derive their color from the barrels in which they are aged. Unless you have an aversion to oak, the color of a dark rum should pose no problem.
Other distilled drinks are colored using fruit juices, malts, spices, and various types of plant life. The key to figuring out whether a distilled liquor is free of animal products is to simply read the label. If you belong to a vegetarian or vegan support organization they may be able to provide you with literature that can help.
Is there any such thing as a vegan beer?
Believe it or not, there are a small handful of beer makers in Europe that make vegan beer. Whether or not this is a good idea depends on your view of both beer and the vegan lifestyle. We suspect the average football fan doesn’t care what’s in his beer as long as it’s cold and tasty. If you do care, you’re probably not watching football anyway.
With that in mind, we can’t give you a particular recommendation of a vegan beer. All we can suggest is that you look for some sort of indication on the label and give it a try if you find any. Whether or not a vegan beer tastes any different is also something we can’t say. But then again, does it really matter?
The vegetarians and vegans among us are certainly free to practice their own dietary principles to their heart’s content. As are the rest of us. In the end we can all get along and raise our glasses for a hearty toast to our individual beverage of choice. Once it goes down the hatch, no one will care about who’s drinking what.