What alcohol is vegan and how can you tell if it is?

14 May 2020

Food + Drink

As a vegan, there are certain foods and drinks which are off limits. But is alcohol vegan? We take a look at what types of alcohol are vegan-friendly

Veganism is a fast-growing trend: in 2018 there were an estimated 600,000 vegans in the UK, as opposed to 150,000 in 2006. With veganism on the rise, it’s no wonder that many food and drink businesses are now trying to adapt their services to suit this plant-based diet. Whilst it’s fairly easy to see if a food product is suitable for vegans, the transparency of vegan alcohol remains murkier.

Vegan diets exclude animal products, including meat, dairy, eggs, and honey, as well as byproducts from animals or insects. Although alcohol is rarely thought of as containing any animal products, it it might contain some non-vegan ingredients due to the way it’s been processed. So, what type of alcohol is actually vegan?


Glass of beer in industrial brewery

Beer is made by fermenting plant-based ingredients – such as barley, water, hops and yeast – so you would think that, naturally, it’s vegan. However, some brewers brew their beers with ingredients derived from animals, making it unsuitable for a vegan diet. Ingredients such as isinglass (a sort of gelatin from fish) and standard gelatin can be used as fining agents to clarify the beer, whilst lactose and honey are sometimes added as ingredients for flavour.

It can be difficult to know if these ingredients have been used, as they aren’t always labelled on the ingredients list. However, there are certain types of beer which are definitely not suitable for vegans:

  • Cask ales (or real ales), are a type of traditional British ale which uses isinglass as a fining agent
  • Honey beers, which use honey to flavour the brew
  • Meads – a beer-like alcoholic drink, which is made by fermenting honey


multiple glasses of red wine

Just like beer, the main ingredients of wine are completely vegan-friendly: wine is made after the juice of fermented crushed grapes is combined with fining agents, such as plant compounds called tannins, to remove unwanted substances.

Nevertheless, this does not make wine automatically vegan: some wineries use animal products, such as isinglass and gelatin for fining as well. Carmine, a red dye derived from insects, can also be added to colour the wine to achieve a rich, deep scarlet colour.

Except for carmine, wineries don’t have to list every ingredient used during the production of the wine, including any fining agents added, making it all the more difficult to work out whether your bottle of wine is completely vegan-friendly.


shelf of spirit alcohol

According to Dominika Piasecka, a spokesperson for The Vegan Society, the general rule of thumb for spirits is that they are suitable for vegans. Naturally clear spirits, such as vodka and white rum, go through a different type of filtration to that of beer and wine, meaning that vegans can generally get the go-ahead with this type of alcohol.

That being said, liqueurs and other flavoured spirits might be out of the picture for vegans. Flavoured liqueurs can contain ingredients such as milk, cream, chocolate and honey – all of which are not suitable for vegans. Carmine can also be used as a colourant in red drinks, so it’s important to remain vigilant if you want to order a cocktail in a bar.

How can I find out if it’s suitable for vegans?

Whilst veganism does restrict some foods and drinks, it doesn’t mean that you have to completely cut out anything you might think has some animal product in. Although it might seem tricky to decipher whether or not an alcoholic beverage is plant based, there are a few simple ways that you can check whether an alcohol product is suitable for vegans or not.

Some alcoholic drinks do contain the Vegan Trademark, which is a certified indicator that no animal products were used during processing. However, some brands might not have the trademark to display this, even if their alcohol is vegan, so you may need to contact the manufacturer prior to purchasing to find out if your booze of choice is vegan-friendly.

If you want a quick answer, the online directory at Barnivore is a great hub for vegans who want to find out what types of alcohol are suitable for their diet. Here, vegans submit responses from manufacturers about the ingredients used within their alcohol, and these replies are then double-checked by those running the website.

At Hotel Chocolat, our vegan range – including chocolate, alcohol and beauty products – is 100% plant based. If you fancy yourself as a bit of a mixologist, why not incorporate our Salted Caramel Cocoa Vodka Liqueur into a cocktail to create our Dark Soother Cocktail? Or if you fancy a drink which is on the simpler side, our Cocoa Gin is delicious over ice, with a splash of tonic and a garnish of orange. If you have something to celebrate, our Limited Edition Pinot Coupage is a dry and complex fizz, with notes of biscuit and russet apples.

Whether you’re already vegan and searching for the best vegan-friendly alcohol, or considering making the switch to veganism, there’s a whole world of vegan alcohol products out there!