What The Hell Is Isinglass And Why Is It In My Beer?

Just when we start to think we’ve got a handle on most things ‘beer’ (we do write about it 24/7) we get blindsided by something new, at least to us…like Isinglass. What the hell is that?

First some bad news for vegans…Many of those beers you’ve been consuming aren’t vegan, at least not in the strictest sense. The truth is that many of us may have gotten closer to isinglass, “in our glass,” than some of us would have liked.

Ask most savvy consumers’ beer’s classic ingredients and an informed majority would come back with hops, malt, barley and water, and maybe a bit of yeast thrown in to keep things active.

But chances are good that they wouldn’t have mentioned isinglass which according to The Oxford Companion to Beer is a gelatin made from fish bladders.

Getting even more technical, Craft Beer & Brewing explains the substance this way…

“Isinglass is a traditional finings, a substance that causes yeast to precipitate out of suspension, leaving beer clear. Isinglass is derived from the swim bladders of certain tropical and subtropical fish.

“When macerated and dissolved for several weeks in dilute food-grade acids, they form a turbid, colorless, viscous solution largely made up of the protein collagen. This material is known to brewers as isinglass finings.”

Hopefully not in your beer…

The tutorial continues and we expect that many of you vegans may want to blow your brains out right now…

As it turns out there are some types of fish that are better at removing yeast and protein haze from beer than others…

Traditionally isinglass was derived from the sturgeon, but nowadays many tropical fish varieties are used for the commercial finings (think clarification) process.

There is some good news for vegan beer lovers as long as they’re not attached to cask ales or craft beer…

With the advances in centrifugation and filtration technologies, the use of isinglass in the commercial brewing process has declined over the years.

Today its use is largely confined to cask ales in the UK as well as to some craft brewers who also use it to clarify beer without the use of filtration.

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