The labelling of alcoholic drinks in the UK and Europe is not subject to the same rules, regulations and guidance as food and (non-alcoholic) drink. The labelling of alcohol is inconsistent and the labelling required by law does not enable the vegan consumer to make an informed decision. So, how do you buy gluten-free, vegan wine, or beer (or Margaritas)!!! Here is Your Essential Guide To Gluten-Free, Vegan Alcoholic Drinks.
By-the-way!!! Alcoholic beverages are defined as those containing more than 1.2% ABV of alcohol. That is why Shandy Bass and Top Deck Shandy was marketed to children in the 1970s and 80s (<1.2% ABV). In the UK and Europe most alcohol does not have to list ingredients (weird and totally wrong, right?). The minimum information required by law in the UK on alcoholic drinks labels
- Name and address of supplier/ bottler
- Country of origin
- Quantity of product (e.g. 33 cl or 750 ml)
- Alcoholic strength by volume (if >1.2% by volume)
- Allergy declarations (liquorice is an allergen for alcoholic labelling purposes – who knew!)
- Use by date (for alcoholic beverages <10% strength by volume).
NB Allergens only need to be stated if sulphites residue exceeds 10 mg/l, milk or egg residue exceeds 0.25 mg/l. So, even if egg, milk and suplphites are used they only need to be stated as allergens if they are still present in the final product
All of that is very useful (especially if you are into fancy wine). However, the supplier or bottler can, of course, add further information, even ingredients! Some producers do add ingredients. Most don’t so, without a clear declaration of vegan you are reliant on information provided by websites such as Barnivore – a fabulous resource that works to identity and list beer, wine and spirits (across the world) that are vegan friendly. It is a wonderful guide.
Your Essential Guide To Gluten-Free, Vegan Alcoholic Drinks – The Top Three Things You Need To Know
So what makes alcoholic drinks not vegan or gluten-free? There are three big things you need to be aware of when buying and drinking alcohol…
- Beer and wine may be filtered or refined using egg, fish products or gelatine (AKA finings)
- Many spirits are brewed from grains (often wheat) and, although the brewing process removes gluten, these spirits may not be suitable for all people with issues with gluten
- Alcohol labelling is inconsistent and none of the above has to be declared on labels.
Many online shops and supermarkets have recently become much, much better at labelling their alcohol if it is suitable for vegans. However, it is very hit and miss and not that great in the actual stores.
Some liqueurs and mixed drinks are also not vegan so, you need to be super aware. I’m thinking (the obvious/) Advocaat (or Advokat)… which is a Dutch alcoholic beverage made from eggs, sugar, and brandy. Prevalent in drinks cabinets across the country especially in the late 20th century.
A quick word on this strange drink. The story is that Advocaat was brought to the Netherlands from South America a few hundred years ago. It was originally made from avocado (hence the name) but the dearth of avocados in the Netherlands necessitated something similar (in shape?): the egg. I have plans to make proper Advocaat from avocados at some point…
Your Essential Guide To Gluten-Free, Vegan Alcoholic Drinks
How do you know what is what in terms of additives and what might (or might not) be vegan???
Food products such as beer and wine are unstable. So, processes have been developed to stabilise wine and beer so it can travel (across the Channel or up the road from Kent) and still taste great. There are a number of different additives, some of which have been used for hundreds of years. Wine and beer tend to last longer (and travel better) when they are ‘refined’ and ‘stable’. Many additives are mostly absent from the end product (not that it really matters if non-vegan ingredients are used at all), as they ‘glom’ (molecular attraction) onto unwanted particles and are removed from the finished wine. The most common additives include
- Sulphur. Sulphites are present from the fermentation process and are added to kill unwanted bacteria and yeasts in the wine-making process
- Yeast. Yeast turns sugar into alcohol. Magical! Different kinds of yeast affect the flavour of the resulting wine and beer. Some beer and wine-makers prefer ambient yeast present on grape skins and in the environment while other winemakers create a custom cultured yeasts
- Tannin. Grapes are full of seeds which are very tannic. The seeds are crushed with the grapes to add structure to wine. Oak aging also adds small amounts of tannin as the wine is exposed to the oak wood. Tannin is that slightly bitter, moisture sucking flavour/ texture in red wine
- Sugar. Chaptalisation is the process of adding sugar to grape juice in order to increase the final alcohol level. Adding sugar doesn’t make a wine or beer sweeter, the sugar is consumed by the yeast when it is fermented into alcohol. Chaptalisation can add up to 3% ABV. It is usual with beer (excluding specialist beers) and wine areas where grapes struggle with ripeness, such as Bordeaux. Adding cane sugar to wine is not legal in California, Argentina, Australia, Southern France and South Africa. Producers can add sugar rich grape concentrate to simulate the same results, as the use of grape concentrate is not considered chaptalisation
- Fining and clarification. After fermentation, beer and wine goes through a period of stabilisation. The chemicals added during this process are designed to pull unwanted characteristics out of the wine. For instance, copper sulfate is added to remove free sulphur from wine. For hundreds of years in Italy and France, winemakers would add an egg white or two to a large barrel of wine. The proteins in the egg white would bind to free proteins suspended in the wine. Wine-makers would strain the clear wine off the top and leave the sludge. This process is called fining and racking. Now, there are more advanced ways of achieving the same results including numerous microbial products (vegan) that perform the same function. Non-vegetarian wine additives are still widely used. Fining agents (to remove undesirable flavours) for beer and wine include albumen (egg white) and milk products. To clarify wine, isinglass (dried swim bladders of fish), casein (milk product) and gelatine are commonly used. There are also additives used to remove heat labile proteins such as trypsin and pepsin which are derived from porcine or bovine pancreas
- Acid Control. The pH of wine is crucial to how it tastes and how long a wine will last. On a perfect vintage, the wines will be more naturally in balance. Not all wines are perfect and most need some help. De-acidifiers include calcium carbonate (aka chalk). Acidifiers include tartaric acid, malic acid and citric acid or any blend thereof could help balance the wine
- Stabilisers. Besides sulphur, there are a few other common wine stabilisers. Acetaldehyde is used for colour stabilisation. The amount used must not exceed 300 ppm, and the finished concentrate must have no detectable level of the material. This is something that happens naturally in grapes although some people claim it causes severe headaches. Dimethyl Dicarbonate (DMDC) is used to sterilise and to stabilise wine as well as dealcoholised wine. It is approved for use in the US, the EU, and Australia.
There may (sometimes!) be E Numbers listed on alcoholic drinks. So how do you know if these are vegan or not (and they have no indication to say they are)? To check these out you can download my FREE E Numbers Cheat Sheet. It will help you navigate E Numbers with confidence!
So here is my very brief guide to what to look for in alcoholic drinks if you are gluten-free and vegan and my favourite drinks by (very broad) category.
Your Essential Guide To Gluten-Free, Vegan Alcoholic Drinks – Wine
You would assume that wine is just fermented grapes. Yeh? No! Whilst many wines or not vegan (or even vegetarian) almost all wine is gluten-free (I have never come across a wine that contained gluten, that would be crazy!).
So, excluding the anti-freeze horrors of the 1980s, there are quite a few ingredients in wine you might not expect but the wines below are totally gluten-free and vegan and delicious.
Starting with the fancy stuff. I had this Waitrose Brut Champagne* over Christmas. It was dry, full of flavour and my favourite Champagne – ever. By a long way. Miles better than stuff that cost four times this. Well worth the money.
White wine is something I have to be in the mood for. However, I really, really like Vina Taboexa Albariño* a Spanish wine that is dry and full of flavour without tasting like crappy Chardonnay. I hate Chardonnay.
My ‘go-to’ red wine is this fabulous Portuguese Douro Valley Reserva*.
With the expectation of a rip-roaring summer I can heartily recommend Provence Rosé*. Having spent a fabulous holiday in Provence last year I am crazy about great, fresh, dry rosé on a hot summers day. Plus a bowl of salted, roasted almonds. Happy.
I cannot talk about wine without touching on sherry. Do not dismiss sherry. It is incredible. It’s so far away from the aged-aunt sipping a sherry with her pinky out. Sherry rocks. Great, dry, almondy, salty sherry is to be savoured. It is hard to get great vegan sherry but this amazing value Fino Sherry* is a fantastic introduction.
‘Clean’ wine is gaining in popularity and tends to be lower in sulphur dioxide (but not free from it as sulphur dioxide is naturally present in wine) and has reduced additives (notably they can be rather cloudy) – no wine is just grapes. However, there is no agreed definition of ‘clean’ wine and it is a little tricky to get hold of. I have tried a few vegan ‘clean’ wines and really, rather liked them. I have found these in a few restaurants and local markets. Try them if you see them.
Your Essential Guide To Gluten-Free, Vegan Alcoholic Drinks – Beer And Cider
Beer. Tricky! There are quite a few gluten-free beers available but most of them (Peroni, Estrella Damn) are ‘normal’ gluten beers that have been chemically processed to remove the gluten. Personally, I don’t like them and prefer not to drink them so cannot recommend them. There are quite a few craft breweries that are brewing gluten-free, vegan beer. From sorghum, rice and other grains. Some will be available mail order, most are available locally. I had an amazing gluten-free, vegan beer a few years ago in San Francisco – brewed from sorghum. It was such a treat to be able to have a good beer with lunch on holiday.
So, apart from ‘gluten removed’ beer there is the option of Fiery Alcoholic Ginger Beer*. Not a bad addition to your drinks cabinet. Especially if you fancy a change.
Cider (and perry!) is another matter altogether. Cider is (well, should be!) naturally gluten-free. Lots of cider is vegan. I cannot stand the super-sweet ciders and much prefer super-dry, cloudy ciders. They are hard to find. However, Leckford Cox’s Apple Vintage Cider* chilled with a weekend summer lunch is pretty good!
Your Essential Guide To Gluten-Free, Vegan Alcoholic Drinks – Spirits
Many spirits are distilled from grains. Whilst the the process removes gluten (in a similar vein to gluten-free beers) I prefer to buy spirits that are NOT brewed from grains. That mean potato vodka and apple gin. Yeh!
If you are happy to go with spirits distilled from grains, go for it! There are a host of great spirits out there.
My choice of spirits NOT made from grains starts with Chase Distillery. They are based in Herefordshire and distil vegan friendly vodka and gin from potatoes and apples. Their products are excellent.
My favourites being Chase English Potato Vodka*. The perfect mixer for almost any drink…
I do like a gin and tonic to start the weekend Williams Elegant 48 Gin* is the perfect gin with a great (Fevertree?) tonic.
For the summer months Chase Elderflower Liqueur* is pretty good too.
Your Essential Guide To Gluten-Free, Vegan Alcoholic Drinks – Cocktails
So, what if you fancy something a little bit different to the straight drinks above? A little cocktail??? I have two favourites: Cranberry Mojito and White Sangria both are fabulous at any time of year.
What’s In Your Essential Guide To Gluten-Free, Vegan Alcoholic Drinks?
This is my Essential Guide To Gluten-Free, Vegan Alcoholic Drinks – my tiny selection of faves…
What are your Gluten-Free, Vegan Alcoholic Drinks tips? Drop a comment below or ping me on social media! 🙂