When you look at a food menu, you usually get a good indication of if a dish will be vegan or not. If there is any doubt, a few questions will most likely get you the answer you need. When it comes to drinks, however, it’s a completely different story and one you may or may not be aware of. Just in case your answer is the later, here’s a little run down of what to be wary of – followed by three wonderful places where you can find some vegan-friendly drinks in Leeds and further afield.
What makes alcohol non-vegan?
Fining agents are used to remove any organic particles, such as yeast or proteins, that are suspended in the liquid at the end of the alcohol-making process. Unfortunately, many of these fining agents are not vegan, or even vegetarian, friendly. To complicate matters, many breweries do not disclose what fining agents they are using nor are they obliged to list all of the ingredients if the alcohol content is over 1.2% volume. Added to this, even when a producer does disclose, you will often need to have done your homework in advance to make sure you get vegan-friendly drinks as it isn’t guaranteed that bar staff will be able to help you out.
So why are some beers not vegan? Gelatine (a gel made from boiled down connective tissue and bones) and isinglass (dried fish bladders) are two common substances used for filtering beer, especially ales. Though none of the “agent” remains in the finished drink, this means that the production of the alcohol involved cruel and unnecessary practices. Beers can also be brewed with lactose (milk sugars) to add sweetness; again, these would not be suitable for vegans.
Fortunately, most spirits are vegan. Having said that, according to the Vegetarian Society, some whiskeys may have been produced in casks that previously contained sherry that was treated with animal-derived finings – a clear example of just how hard it is to know how your drink has been produced.
Wines can be finished with a whole range of non-vegan fining agents: gelatine, isinglass, chitosan (originating from shrimp and other crustaceans), casein and egg albumen are all common. A less common method is using bull’s blood, though fortunately this is not allowed to be sold within the EU or the US.
So how do you know that what you’re drinking is vegan?
Firstly, I can’t recommend Barnivore highly enough as a resource. Their website has comprehensive and semi-regularly updated listings for a vast number of alcoholic drinks. They don’t currently have an app (they are working on one though, hurrah!) but they do have a list of alternative apps to try out in the meantime that should come in handy.
3 Places to Find Vegan-Friendly Drinks in Leeds
Part of the reason I’ve chosen to share these three places, over one-off independents, is because they have branches in other cities in the UK too, so more of you might find it useful. Also, I’ve come to appreciate the chains out there who are often leading the way in offering vegan-friendly options.
For Beer Lovers: Vegan Ale Tasting at The Botanist
The Botanist has a huge selection of beers and ales on offer, so a great way to get to know them and find your favourites is through an ale tasting session. I was invited to join one of their sessions a little while ago and found myself delighted to hear that all but one included in the session were already vegan. Fortunately the staff were very clued up about which ones were and which ones weren’t. They were able to find me a substitute for the last ale in the session (as it was a chocolate beer brewed with lactose) – funnily enough, the replacement turned out to be one of my favourites!
The ale tasting sessions at The Botanist run for 90 minutes and include 8 beers at £15pp. It’s great value for the amount that you get to try and perfect if you’re not too sure about ales. Despite being a beer drinker, I’ve always found ales to be very filling and can’t quite manage a whole one; after the session I realised that there are much lighter ales available that suit my tastes much more. Being able to compare a whole range of ales was a great way to find out which ones suited my palate. My absolute favourite beer from the session was the Kona Big Wave, a golden ale from Hawaii. Another aspect of the ale tasting session that I thought was well planned was the progression in flavours, starting with a light beer and moving onto the fuller flavoured beers, so you didn’t find your tastebuds overwhelmed at any point.
Find out more about ale tasting at The Botanist here. Be sure to inform them at the start of the session that you are vegan so you only get vegan-friendly drinks. Other branches of The Botanist across the UK include Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle.
To Make Your Own: Cocktail Masterclass at All Bar One
Since most spirits are accidentally vegan, cocktails can be a great option – providing you avoid creamy ones that is!
All Bar One isn’t somewhere I have ventured before but the promise of cocktails and the chance to get my hands dirty making my own cocktails was enough to tempt me. A cocktail masterclass at All Bar One involves making three classic vegan-friendly drinks: the mojito, the cosmo and the espresso martini. All three of these cocktails are vegan-friendly, as are the particular spirits that they use.
I’m a big sucker for finishing touches and the set-up for the masterclass was absolutely perfect. Things like the bottles and hand-written tags were a wonderful touch; I was pleasantly surprised by how special this made it feel and I would definitely recommend the masterclass for a special occasion. The sessions last between an hour and 90 minutes (although I’m sure ours was significantly longer once we all got talking!). At £20pp it’s actually cheaper than three individual cocktails so maybe you don’t even need a special occasion after all.
Find out more about cocktail masterclasses at All Bar One here. Other branches of All Bar One across the UK include Sheffield, Edinburgh and Cambridge.
To Drink with Nibbles: Cocktails and Vegan Platters at Banyan Bar
New to Leeds city centre, Banyan Bar is equal parts bar and restaurant. I recently attended their launch party to learn a little more about them and try out their food and drinks.
First off, they have some wonderfully unusual drinks on their menu – such as the pea and mint Bellini that somehow works a treat or the unexpectedly fruity rum & raisin mai tai. Secondly, I was very excited to learn that they have a dedicated vegan menu! Their vegan platter consists of roasted Mediterranean vegetables, humous, crudités, kale crisps, green olives and quinoa superfood salad. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a couple of drinks and I’m already looking forward to trying more from their vegan menu.
You can find Banyan Bar’s vegan menu here. Other branches can be found in Manchester, York and Harrogate.
Do you have any tips for finding vegan-friendly drinks?