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So, just how vegan is your whisky?

By Matt MacPherson

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Wine and sherry often use animal products to filter their drinks, and these casks can then be used to age the whisky.
Wine and sherry often use animal products to filter their drinks, and these casks can then be used to age the whisky.

With only the Bounty bars left at the bottom of the chocolate tin, I think it’s safe to say the festivities are over and it’s time to think about losing some of that inevitable Christmas holiday weight.

The vegan diet has become very popular and, as someone working in the hospitality sector, it’s something I’ve had to learn about.

So what is veganism? There are multiple interpretations but in its simplest form, “dietary veganism” refers to people who do not eat any animal meat or animal-derived substances such as milk.

There are also those who take it further than just diet, known as “ethical vegans”. These vegans will not use any product that involves animal exploitation and includes foods like honey, which they believe is created through the enslavement of bees.

So where does whisky fit into all of this? Is it vegan?

Yes… and no. But mostly yes.

It really depends on the interpretation of veganism you use and the specific product you are talking about. However, generally speaking, the majority of whiskies use ingredients that are suitable for vegans.

Single malt whisky is made from water, malted barley and yeast. Single grain whisky might use other wholegrains in addition to malted or unmalted cereals – which are all safe for vegans too. Hooray!

The complications arise when looking at American whiskey and the use of whisky additives. Several distillers will add honey to their product, for a sweeter flavour, which – depending on which type of vegan you are – could make these unsuitable. Whisky cream liqueurs should be avoided entirely as they typically contain cream made with cow's milk.

Very strict vegans may also be concerned about the type of cask that the spirit has aged in. Distilleries often use ex-sherry and ex-wine casks to age their whisky. Animal bi-products such as isinglass (gelatine derived from fish bladders) are often used to filter the wine. If that sherry or wine used animal products in the production process, it could contaminate the contents of that cask.

How far you analyse a product and its ingredients is up to you. I’m going to play safe this year and only drink single malt whisky – anything else is just too risky.

  • Matt MacPherson is the owner and founder of The Malt Room in Inverness.

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