Yo Vegans: There are still animals swimming in your Guinness

Now that Guinness says it will no longer use isinglass, a common gelatin-like beer filtering agent made from dried fish bladders, vegans can finally enjoy a guilt-free pint of the famous Irish stout, right?

Guess again, carrot top.

Look more closely and you’ll find plenty of animals hiding in your glass of suds. Pigs, horses and even bugs are sacrificed in the beer-making process.

To be clear, there are no actual carcasses in beer.

In fact, there were never any fish bladders, either.

Isinglass, used by brewers for centuries, works by coagulating around microscopic proteins and spent yeast, making them heavy enough to settle to the bottom of the conditioning tank. The process, called fining, clarifies beer without altering flavor.

The whole point of using isinglass is that it’s left out of the beer with the rest of the dregs. You never actually swallow the fish.

Yes, Guinness conceded, there might be trace amounts of isinglass in its beer. But, c’mon – there are trace amounts of fish in tap water, too, and you don’t see vegans boycotting hydration. That’s because we’re talking about something that can be detected only under a microscope and measured in parts per million.

But forget actual science. Isinglass evolved into a bogeyman among vegans and animal activists who griped loudly about the poor cod that gave their lives for the sake of an uncloudy stout. Maybe it was the yuck factor: Fish guts in your beer just sounds disgusting, even if the stuff looks like an innocuous powder.

The grumbling turned into an all-out attack when Vani Hari – a/k/a the Food Babe, a notorious, blithering Internet scaremonger with a legion of clueless followers – launched a campaign accusing Guinness and others of being “sneaky” about failing to disclose the ingredient.

Never mind that fewer than one-half a percent of Americans identify themselves as vegans. Never mind that Guinness had depended on isinglass for much of its 250-year history. The company announced last week that it will implement a new filtering process – one that it says won’t change the character of its stout – by the end of 2016.

OK, chalk one up for the kale lobby.

But beware: Guinness might’ve saved Nemo, but there are almost certainly a few other non-vegan ingredients lurking in your beer, including:

Pigs: You like the look of that wonderful foamy head on a perfect pint of Guinness? Many breweries control the bubbles with “heading” agents derived from an enzyme called pepsin. Pepsin is extracted from the stomachs of slaughtered – oink! – pigs.

Horses: They’re an essential ingredient in glue. Or, at least their hooves and bones are, in the form of collagen used to make many brands of adhesive. Yes, there are synthetic glues, but does Guinness use those to stick labels onto bottles? It hasn’t said yea or neigh!

Dairy: It takes a while for beer to make its way from Dublin to your favorite fake Irish pub – weeks that turn into months, depending on how long the beer sits in the bar’s cold box. To prevent spoilage, imports are often treated with preservatives, including one called nisin, which is made with – oh moo! – milk.

Rats: Beer is made from malted barley, a grain that is stored in silos, which attract all kinds of vermin. Because certain food defects are unavoidable and present no health hazard, government food-safety regulations say that grain may contain limited amounts of – eek! – rat hair.

Bugs: Beer color generally comes from the type of grain used in the malt bill. But sometimes brewers tweak the color with food dye, especially red dye that is made with carmine. Carmine, which you can also find in Mentos, Dannon yogurt and hundreds of other food products, is made from ground-up – buzz! – insects.

Fish bladders: Yep, though Guinness will stop using isinglass, scores of other breweries still depend on it. And that means the draft lines at your local bar – the very lines that carry Guinness into your pint glass – are contaminated with trace amounts of those poor, little fishies.





  1. Matt B  November 12, 2015

    Typically, I like your blog. You provide a lot of useful information about the regional beer scene and beyond. While some of this is some good information to know, why do you have to present it as an attack on vegans? It’s a classic Gotcha! scenario. I don’t know many vegans who purport to be perfect, and I sure as hell don’t. Sure, there are some holier than though types, but you can find them in any subset of the population. Most of us are just trying to do better.

    • don@joesixpack.net  November 12, 2015

      I actually support vegan choices. What I have a problem with is the people behind the anti-isinglass movement. They won their battle vs. Guinness (who I have no sympathy for, by the way) by appealing to ignorance. It was duplicitous, it failed to advance their cause in any meaningful way, and they deserve to be held in contempt for it.

      Also, since when is factual reporting “a classic Gotcha! scenario?”

      • Jay W  November 12, 2015

        What cause does this article serve to advance in a meaningful way?

        • don@joesixpack.net  November 12, 2015

          Humor and intelligence, though I’ll acknowledge both may be lost on some readers. My apologies.

  2. Dean Moriarty  November 12, 2015

    How disappointing it is to read the tone of this entry. The presence of animal ingredients in beer is surely a topic worthy of information gathering/disseminating. Although attempting to be a cruelty-free beer enthusiast may certainly be futile given the ubiquity of surreptitious or planned animal-derived ingredients in beer (and other foodstuff), to disparage or poke fun at individuals who share that particular ethos, consciousness, mindfulness, or moral principles seems unnecessary and quite judgmental. Providing the awareness of the challenges of actually being able to enjoy beer that is 100% free of animal-derived ingredients is one thing, but to take the “too bad vegans, you’re all SOL, so ha!” attitude is really reprehensible.

  3. Mark  November 13, 2015

    The above commentators are in need of a Guinness more than anyone. The point is that if you want to be a vegan beer drinker you will most likely need to brew your own beer so stop having breweries bow down to foolish demands..

  4. Kurt Burris  November 13, 2015

    You can’t grow barley and be completely cruelty free. Some critters are going to be killed during the tilling and harvesting. And there will be trace amounts of vermin in the malt. It is impossible to make virtually anything that is completely vegan. I’m not saying it isn’t worth trying if you so desire. Moving toward a plant based diet is both good for you and for the planet. But, insisting on their being no trace of animal products (and I have read of vegans not buying a wine because of the glue used for the label) is nore dogma than diet.