Is whisky vegan?
If you want the short answer, then yes: whiskey is vegan. Thank you very much for playing.
But, you know me, I like to explore. So, I’d like to look at whether there are any situations where whisky wouldn’t be vegan. And, it turns out there are. Looking at how whisky might not be vegan is an interesting way to understand more about how whisky is made. So let’s take a look.
First why, in 99% of cases, is whiskey vegan? Whisky is made from water, yeast and a cereal grain. Single Malt scotch whiskey is made from malted barley. Grain whisky or bourbon can be made from other whole grains like corn, rye, wheat. Normally it’ll be some specific combination of different whole grains. So that’s all gravy for a vegan. Well, that was a bad choice of words because vegans can’t have gravy. But you know what I mean, if whisky is just made from water, yeast and grains then naturally it’s fine for vegans to eat. But there are some examples when a super strict vegan, your level 5 vegan if you will, wouldn’t touch the stuff.
The first and most obvious example is a whisky liqueur. Whisky liqueurs are a great way to take a someone who is absolutely terrified of drinking whisky and ease them into it. If having an Ardbeg as your first whisky is like jumping from a cliff into the ocean, having a whisky liqueur is just dipping your little toe into the kiddy pool. Brose is an example of a whisky liqueur that has been around for centuries and is made of a mixture of whisky, honey, oatmeal and cream.
Probably the best known modern whisky liqueur is Drambuie. According to legend, Bonnie Prince Charlie gave the recipe for Drambuie to Captain John MacKinnon in exchange for sanctuary on the Isle of Skye in 1746. It’s made from a blend of whisky, herbs, spices and heather honey. Because it has honey in it, it isn’t suitable for vegans. Tennessee Honey from Jack Daniels is another example. And Columba Cream, originally created on the Isle of Mull in 1982, is doubly bad for a vegan because it has both honey and cream in it. Basically it’s a delicious alternative to Baileys Irish Cream and I’m afraid to say a vegan no-no.
Next, lets look at the pitfalls a vegan might have with finishing. While the ingredients you’re ingesting might all be vegan, a super strict vegan might have a problem if the whisky has been finished in a exotic cask. It is becoming increasingly more popular to finish whisky in port casks, GlenDronach, Glenmorangie and Kavalan all come to mind.
There are two styles of Port: Wood Aged and Bottle Aged. Wood Aged Ports when bottled are filtered with a fining agent not considered suitable for vegans. This agent is gelatin, which is no good for vegans!
In case you’re wondering, bottled Aged Ports are bottled unfiltered and are therefore considered suitable for vegans. But if we’re looking at why a vegan might not be able to drink a whisky, it is possible that a whisky that is finished in an ex-port cask might have at one point been in contact with gelatin.
Now, I’m not a vegan, so I don’t know how big a deal that really is to people; but I do think its interesting to know.
The next possible area could fall on our good friend Jack Daniels. We’ve already talked about Tennessee Honey having, well, honey in it. But there is another area where in theory, a Tennessee whiskey might not be suitable for vegetarians. The difference between Tennessee whiskey, like Jack Daniels, and regular bourbon is what’s called the Lincoln Country Process. Tennessee whisky, before being bottled, is filtered through 10 feet of sugar maple charcoal. Now, it is possible that some charcoal could be made by heating animal bones. This isn’t the case at Jack Daniels, but in theory if you were looking at other brands of Tennessee Whiskey, then maybe, possibly-ish the charcoal might not be vegan? But that’s probably grasping at straws, rather than charred animal bones.
But, speaking of tenuous links, there is one more place where a vegan might have issue with whisky and that’s with the label itself. Some types of adhesives used to stick the label onto the bottle may contain caseins (from cow’s milk proteins) along with other polymers. So, you could argue that these adhesives make the product unsuitable for vegans; but that’s a bit of a sticky issue.
So, to wrap it up: nearly all whiskies are vegan except for cream-based liqueurs and products that mention honey on the label. But don’t ask how the label got stuck to the bottle.
Angel’s Envy Bourbon Whiskey Is Not Vegan Friendly - Barnivore Vegan Liquor Guide. http://www.barnivore.com/products/39984-angels-envy-bourbon-whiskey. Accessed 6 Dec. 2019.
Hammond, Richard. ‘Is Whiskey Vegan?’ WhiskeyBon, 11 June 2019, https://whiskeybon.com/blog/is-whiskey-vegan/.
Is Whiskey Vegan? – Vegan Valor. https://veganvalor.com/is-whiskey-vegan/. Accessed 6 Dec. 2019.
Scotsman, Staff. ‘7 Great Scottish Whisky Liqueurs to Enjoy’. Scotsman Food and Drink, 19 Oct. 2015, https://foodanddrink.scotsman.com/drink/7-great-scottish-whisky-liqueurs-to-enjoy/.