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Good news for vegans: Guinness to stop making beer with a ‘fishy’ ingredient

For over 250 years, Guinness has used a surprising ingredient in its beer-making process: fish bladders. That’s about to change.

Going vegan means doing your due diligence; you never know where animal products will turn up. Take Guinness, for instance: For centuries its makers have used isinglass, a product made of the dried air bladders of freshwater fish, to settle the yeast in its famous porters and stouts, making the classic beverage off-limits for a vegan diet.

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That’s all about to change, according to a spokesman from Guinness, who says the company plans to discontinue the use of isinglass in making Guinness’ family of beers, and gives a nod to people who may not be able to drink the beer because of its fishy manufacturing processes.

“While isinglass is a very effective means of clarification and has been used for many years, we expect to stop using it as the new filtration asset is introduced… We are conscious that its use may represent a barrier to consumption of our products to some. As part of our ongoing efforts to further improve the way we make our products, we are seeking alternatives to isinglass.”

Isinglass is actually a pretty common “fining” ingredient that allows beer manufacturers to clarify beer quickly. To be palatable, the yeast in beer needs to clear, which happens naturally but slowly if you leave beer alone. To speed up the process, you need to flocculate the yeast, which is fancy talk for getting it to settle all together in a blob at the bottom of the barrel. Turns out the collagen from dried fish bladders is pretty great at making beer blobs, which is why it’s a common ingredient in cask ales.

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We can’t say for sure whether Guinness’ change of heart is related to pressure applied by vegans on the manufacturer, but there definitely have been a few attempts in the past to get Guinness to discontinue the use of isinglass or to at least include the fact that its beer contains animal products on the label.

A recent petition called for an end to the practice:

“Guinness uses isinglass in its production, derived from the swim bladders of fish. The isinglass helps the sediment settle faster, and is not used not for flavour or texture. Some tiny particles of fish will remain in the final drink. This makes it unsuitable for vegetarian and vegan diets, as well as anyone else who doesn’t like the idea of fish being used to make their pint.”

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It encouraged lovers of the Irish staple to sign a letter to Guinness, its manufacturer, Diageo, and Guinness master brewer Fergal Murray that simply states: “Please make Guinness vegetarian / vegan friendly! I’m a vegetarian, and I have to choose between not drinking Guinness (unfathomable) or feeling like a hypocrite for ignoring the fact that animals are used in its manufacture.”

The petition got over 1,000 signatures, and surely the news today will have lovers of both animals and the black stuff very happy.

Guinness hasn’t said yet what the new filtration system will look like, but it will be in place by 2016, which means that soon vegans and vegetarians will be able to enjoy a pint of Guinness with a clear conscience, and thank goodness for that.

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