We’re now registered with The Vegan Society! What does this mean? It means that our small pack and keg beers are entirely free of animal involvement, whether for the purposes of ingredients or animal testing. Some people may not even be aware that there can be animal derived products in beer so I (Katy Twomey – Communications Coordinator) had a chat with Head Brewer (and husband) Will Twomey to find out what going on.

What in beer involves animals?

When we make cask beer, we put it into the cask after our regular fermentation and at this point it’s still hazy, there’ll be some protein in there but most of it will be non-floculated yeast floating around. By adding finings it helps the yeast clump together by making the particle size bigger so it drops out quickly. It’s the finings that aren’t vegan.

What the heck are finings?

Generally they’re a long chain poly peptide that has a net charge to it. It’s essentially collagen that can be in the form of gelatin, which is obviously an animal product, or isinglass which is made from fish swim bladders. They take the swim bladder of the fish, dry it, then shred it and mix it with an acid which dissolves all the protein and you’re left with pure collagen. When you put that into the cask, because it’s got a net charge it reacts with the opposite charge of the yeast and that’s how everything clumps together, it’s just like an opposites attract type thing.

And now in normal human terms…

So when we put finings into the cask, the yeast will be attracted to it, it’ll all clump together and then when you stillage the barrel and leave it for 24 hours everything will drop out to the bottom and you’re left with the clear beer on top.

Ok, but the finings are still in the cask right?

Right. Obviously that’s not vegan friendly or vegetarian friendly so for our small pack beers and keg beers we just filter and use a different type of finings in the fermenting vessel. The finings we use in the fermenting vessel are a type of silica gel which is a non-animal derived product that removes all the protein, we also give it some extra time to help the yeast drop out at a cold temperature and then when we want to clarify it we either pass it through the centrifuge (spins the beer very quickly, removes solid particles and allows the clear beer to be drawn off) or sterile filter. We centrifuge our hoppy beers so that we don’t strip out any flavour, and then for our lagers and all of our WBB bottled range we sterile filter, which means we pass them through a series of filters which use depth filtration, which is like a nylon membrane of differing pore sizes. As you pass the beer through, it starts with a large filter, goes through onto a medium filter and then onto a very very fine filter which strips out everything down to bacteria, its .45 micron sterile filtration which means the beer is sterile once it’s filtered.

So does that mean our WBB bottled beers are vegan friendly?

Yes, unless they contain lactose. But we haven’t yet registered them with The Vegan Society, just the Renegade range.

Why can’t we do the same thing with the cask beer as we do with the keg beer?

I mean you could but then you’d end up with clear beer without any yeast in it and you need the yeast in the beer to condition it. You need the yeast to be present in the cask for it to undergo the secondary fermentation which will give it it’s fizz and mature the flavour which is really important.

Is there an alternative to using isinglass finings?

Yeah I mean sedimentation will happen over time, all that adding finings does is increases particle size so the same process will happen, the yeast will drop out and give you clear beer but it will just take much longer because the yeast cells are very small and they’re not stuck together. So if you’re a publican and you want to serve non-hazy vegan friendly cask beer, you can have the beer racked without finings but you’ll need to leave it for a good week on the stillage before you spile it and tap it, to allow it to settle. You can do it, it’s just that landlords generally don’t have cellars big enough to rack every beer for a week before they use it and they want to be able to put the beer up, let it settle overnight and serve it the next day and then as soon as that cask is empty they can have another barrel ready to go within 24 hours. It’s a convenience thing for typical landords in my opinion, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

Is clear beer important to you personally?

Not to me. I mean as long as its not absolutely filled with yeast and sludge, haze is acceptable .

Do you think people have come to expect clear cask beer from WBB?

Yeah, and there are a few breweries now who do unfined cask  beer which I think is a good thing, the less stuff we put in the beer the better, the more natural it is. Yeah you know we have a very traditional sort of  clientele for the cask beer and they expect a crystal clear pint, typically you can’t get a crystal clear pint without using isinglass so it’s what we do for the cask beers, but if people don’t mind a slightly hazy beer then we can provide unfined beer, that’s absolutely fine…boom boom.

You might well be thinking why would we bother…here’s why. The world we live in is gradually changing in the way that we eat, drink & think. We’re all a little more conscious of how healthy we’re being, what’s in our consumables and what’s happening to our environment, and that translates to the beer industry as well. If there isn’t a need to add in any animal derived products to beer then why would we, especially as we try to be as environmentally friendly as possible, always with a view to do more in the future. Our Taproom has vegan options as standard, with delicious calzones, burgers and pizzas (I know they’re delicious, I’ve tried them all) along with the Gardener’s sharing board, you’ll just need to remove the vegetarian beetroot scotch egg!

If you’re further away and can’t make it to our Taproom for a pint, we’ll be heading to Coventry Vegan Beer Festival presented by Fat Gay Vegan at Twisted Barrel Brewery & Tap House on Saturday 28th July 2018! Click here for more info and tickets.

We can’t wait to meet some new people and share a booze.