Meatless burgers. Vegan pizza. Dairy-free chocolate ice cream. More consumers want vegan options for their favorite food and drink products. In 2020, the plant-based food market grew to $7 billion in sales, showing year after year gains in U.S. demand. With the variety of new and known vegan alternatives, many consumers are wondering whether their beer is vegan friendly.
All of the core ingredients during the brewing process – hops, grains, yeast, and sugar – are perfect for a vegan diet. However, it’s the choices breweries make during the fining process that determines whether filtered styles of beers continue to appeal to vegans. Here’s what you need to know about the beer clarifying agent you choose to use and why going with vegan options is better all around.
The Story behind Isinglass and Irish Moss
This is a relatively new argument in the lifespan of brewing. For centuries, all styles of beer were basically cloudy. Most beer was drunk from opaque earthenware vessels or steins, and it wasn’t until the prevalence of glassware that brewers and beer lovers began to think about the clarity of their alcoholic beverages.
That led brewers to experiment with different fining techniques, especially isinglass and red algae like Irish moss. Originally, isinglass was derived from the dried swim bladder of sturgeon, but those brewers who still use modern isinglass are just as likely to get their clarifying agent from cod, hake or even tropical fish. It carries a positive electrostatic charge that enables it to attract yeast and proteins for later removal.
For 200 years, Irish moss or Chondrus crispus has been used for the same purpose. Among other nutritional or medicinal applications, the carrageenan contained within this and other red algae has historically helped brewers along the Atlantic coast of North America and Europe to attract and remove fine particles from the beer. The negative electrostatic charge of carrageenan encourages the proteins and yeast to clump together, expediting their withdrawal from suspension. It’s so useful that everyone from big breweries to homebrewers have relied upon Chondrus crispus to clarify their wort.
Are Isinglass and Irish Moss Still Relevant
As the science of brewing has progressed, it’s become clearer that some of the old practices are not as necessary as they once were. There’s less incentive to continue to use isinglass, even for traditional cask-brewers. In 2016, Guinness began the process of removing isinglass from their 256 year old brewing process in favor of creating a more vegan-friendly stout. In addition to using Irish moss, they adopted a filtration system that enabled them to achieve many of the benefits of isinglass without using the animal product.
While commercial brewers have moved away from using fish products, many still swear by Irish moss in their brewing process. Noteworthy examples include Molson Coors (which uses fining and filtering aids like Irish moss as well as diatomaceous earth to brew beer with high clarity) and the Arizona-based Four Peaks Brewing Co. (which shows how craft brewers put their trust in the red algae for beer clarification).
Though they had the resources to do so, there’s still a reason to favor Irish moss over isinglass in the long term. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, there has been a significant drop in the amount of fish stocks that are at biologically sustainable levels. Data from 2017 indicates that only 65.8% of fish stocks are sustainable, down from 90% in 1990. As a result, it’s much more likely that global supplies will run short in the coming years – if fish stocks are not properly monitored and fished with sustainability in mind.
On the other hand, Irish moss harvested utilizing sustainable practices will be a reliable, natural resource for the long term. All of our wild seaweed is harvested in a sustainable way by experienced harvesters, with dedicated Resource Managers monitoring seaweed stocks to ensure there is robust regrowth – and support surrounding ecosystems. Our careful processes not only help you to provide a vegan-friendly beer clarifying agent today – but for years to come.
Want to use or supply a beer clarifying agent that will provide results now and be available for years to come? Reach out to Acadian SeaPlus™ to learn more about our sustainable Chondrus crispus brewing agent.