Vegan Beer and Morality Choices

UPDATE 10/05/16: This post has gained a lot of views with people searching for ‘Is Strongbow vegan?’ on Google. While the below information is still correct (no animal products are deliberately used in its production), here’s the official line from Heineken:

“HEINEKEN in the UK can confirm while the majority of our ciders do not have any animal derived ingredients there is a possibility of carryover from some of our ciders that do, therefore we do not claim that any of our ciders are vegetarian/vegan.”


An interesting conversation struck up yesterday with a guy I know. We were at an small outdoor festival – the usual fare with food stalls, plenty of family entertainment, and good, cheap local ale from the barrel. Yet he was drinking a can of Strongbow. “Why?”, I asked. The answer: Because he’s vegan.

For some people this might seem strange, Vegans just don’t eat or wear animals right? Not quite. Veganism also includes the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, including those used to make certain foods.

This means a lot of unlikely foods are off the menu including Worcester Sauce 1, sweets 2, crisps and chips 3 and, strangely, beer. For many a homebrewer beer is simple; malt, hops, yeast and water. But when it comes to the bigger breweries an additional ingredient is often used: Finings. Or to you and me, fish guts.

As CAMRA explains:

“The key ingredient that determines whether a beer is vegetarian/vegan or not is finings. Finings are used to clarify beer, by pulling yeast sediment to the bottom of the cask. These are usually made from isinglass, an extract from the swim bladder of the sturgeon fish. Although the finings drop to the bottom of the cask with the yeast and are not consumed, the use of an animal product to produce the beer is objected to by strict vegetarians and vegans.”

So most beer is off limits for vegans, but it got me thinking: Is Strongbow really a better alternative? It fair to say most vegans practice their beliefs due to a care for the planet and the environment around them, so surely drinking one of the UK’s biggest selling corporate ciders isn’t ethically better?

Strongbow is owned by huge conglomerate Heineken International. Although it has had its share of animal rights issues in the past (and some unfairly), as a company its ethics do seem to be in the right place. Indeed, the majority of its range, including the main Heineken lager, are vegan-friendly.

But is that enough? What about the handful (Kronenbourg amongst others) that do use finings, can you overlook that as a vegan? And how about Strongbow Gold that uses cochineal? Is the life of a beetle the same as a fish in morality terms?

With big global companies come global-scale industrial environmental issues. For some vegans, it may well be the case that it is just the deliberate killing of animals to produce food or other products that they object to. But indirectly a mass producer may have caused harm to the environment and thousands of animals – largely by cutting down trees and vegetation to build and power factories, and by polluting the air by transporting its goods across the globe.

So where do you draw the line? A similar dilemma cropped up in our lives recently over the way we buy our vegetables. Currently we use an excellent veg box delivery company, but noticed that a large part of its produce every week was coming from overseas.

The reason we buy our veg from a company like Riverford is simple. We want to support a local, sustainable supplier who provides good quality produce. But once you factor in the handful of products that come from overseas, what are you really buying into? Does the local economical benefit really outweigh the price differential to justify not shopping in a supermarket and buying similar organic produce there? For us, probably just at the moment, but there may well come a time when that balance changes.

Having morals is never easy because there always has to be that tipping point, whether caused by finance or lifestyle. You can argue against any cause fairly easily where it’s hard to see the greater good. Some may ask why even bother recycling at home when Asia is rapidly polluting the environment or your local council isn’t actually recycling your waste.

If you are honest with yourself, it’s probably the case that at least some of your lifestyle choices are done out of self-satisfaction and outward perception rather than for the morals you proclaim to have. And yes, you will always have to draw the line somewhere, but if everyone does their own little bit that’s far better than doing nothing at all.

  1. Contains anchovies 
  2. Gelatine is derived from collagen obtained from various animal by-products, crisps and chips 
  3. Often fried in animal fat