Sunday, June 13, 2010

You put *what* in it?

We were pleased to see that some of our beer was on at a Vegan Beer Festival recently, along with beers from Belvoir, Buxton, Magpie, Marble, Spectrum & Springhead.

Most of our beers are brewed using nothing except malt, hops, yeast, water, and (sometimes) sugar. There's some unmalted barley in the stout, and we've been known to throw carefully infuse some lovely black treacle or fine malt extracts into some of our irregular beers. Our yeast is non-GM, and as far as we know, our suppliers haven't figured out a way of getting animal products into the hops and malt. Even the sugar we use is free from animal products, non-GM, and would be suitable for vegan, vegetarian, Kosher and Halaal diets. Although, obviously, since our beers are alcoholic beverages, you might want to check with your local zealots before ruining your chances of paradise by drinking some of our delicious frothy ale.

We do have some flaked maize in the malt store, but we haven't used it in anything yet. If we do, we'll tell you.

Since all our cask output is "real ale" it will contain live yeast, which can cause a visible haze in beer and may contribute interesting tastes and aromas in the finished product.

Animal products in beer.

Many pale beers will have been processed using fish derived "isinglass" finings, to produce a "clear" product by promoting a rapid and stable settlement of yeast. Brewers typically add isinglass as the beer is transferred to cask, and while pretty much all of this will remain in the cask as sediment, it does mean that beers fined this way cannot be enjoyed by vegetarians / vegans. Some brewers even use isinglass in their dark beers.

It's not just beer - wine producers might use any, or all, of: isinglass, gelatin, egg albumen, modified casein (from milk), chitin (derived from the shells of crabs or lobsters) or animal blood.

Some brewers manage to avoid the use of isinglass by relying on a highly flocculent yeast or by sending beer out with rather low levels of residual yeast. We've found that neither of these approaches will give us beer that reliably conditions in cask and suits normal cellar operations. Personally, I don't mind hazy beer as long as it's clean, and I find that small amounts of suspended yeast help, rather than spoil, the taste of beer. However, we've found it pretty near impossible to sell unfined pale beers, so we do normally use isinglass in them.

Not needed in dark beer.

On the other hand, our dark beers work perfectly well without finings, so we don't put any in, making them suitable for everyone, including vegetarians and vegans. Yay!

Any utensils or containers that may have been in contact with isinglass will, as a matter of course, be cleaned thoroughly after such use, and before being used for anything else.

Bottled and kegged beer.

Given that beer destined for bottles and kegs will usually be filtered (or centrifuged) to remove yeast and other hazes, you might think that these products won't have been processed with isinglass or animal gelatin.  This is often not the case. Depending on the kind of filtration used, the filter run or use of consumables can be improved by fining beforehand.

We're just looking at bottling now. We hope that we'll be able to avoid finings, but this is liable to have a slight cost impact on the finished item.

Even bottle-conditioned beers may have been fined, but you should check with the brewer.


HardKnott Dave said...

All very interesting. Many vegan beers are put through conditioning tanks. It is possible to brewery condition beer, get it virtually bright and transfer to cask without using isinglass. If done right the beer will have plenty of condition already.

I believe that auxiliary finings are free of animal products and as this removes chill haze and other protein causing hazes it can be useful. I do not use isinglass in my bottled beers as I do not believe they require it. I do use it in my darker cask beers, I shall review this again.

However, beer will not be quite as bright as it could be if neither isinglass nor filtering is used. Personally, I agree with what you say that a little bit of haze is not only not a problem, removing it detracts from flavour. However, from my own experience, putting in isinglass creates a beer that is more acceptable to the general public. This experience is based on what punters say in the pub.

StringersBeer said...

We use an alginate auxiliary, which I don't believe has much effect on its own. Nowadays we add it to the FV (when the chillers go in), if we're going to be using isinglass in the beer. I suppose that silicate auxiliary might have some anti-haze effect, and I know you can get a silica gel designed for the job - a coarse filter would be all you'd need to get rid. A lot of people use PVPP in their bottling, which is excellent, but that will cost a little more (?) unless you regenerate it... Of course, bottle conditioned beers shouldn't have a problem with chill-haze, because they should never get that cold.

The problem with tank conditioning, as I see it, is that the beer isn't cask-conditioned. So it's a bit of a con really. I know why people do it - it's much easier to get right. But then it's not all about what's easy is it. Also - we don't have the tanks - We nearly did, but missed out on a bargain while the bank was fannying around. So I'm making a virtue of neccessity - not the same as "Sour Grapes" :-)