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.