I like to think I am tolerant, but sometimes, I get pushed over the edge…

Just the other week, we were contacted by the compiler of an online database of all things friendly to Vegans and other lesser vegetarianists.  Could we update them on what of our beers where suitable for such folk.  A simple and perfectly reasonable question – to which the answer is equally simple.  Our cask ales (like all cask ales you can see through) contain a small amount Isinglass (which should remain in the cask, with the sediment, and not be in the glass), whilst our bottled beers are suitable for vegans.   The reply expressed dismay that we continue to use isinglass, despite that fact that there are alternatives, and that I should check the list of vegan friendly brewers and talk to them.  Well, ever curious – if not somewhat taken aback by the preaching tone of a frankly inaccurate statement, I had a look.  Sure enough, they were all lager breweries.  And there is of course a big difference – kegged lager (like our bottles) is filtered before packaging.  Cask ale retains it’s sediment all the way through to point of dispense.  Anyone care to guess why one might contain isinglass, and the other not?  The problem here is not that us brewers just wish to buy the stuff for the sake of it, or indeed go the extra mile through the entire process just to ensure the isinglass is going to work as it should – it is that Joe Public can’t help thinking that a hazy beer is a bad beer that will make him very ill.  This is what we technically call bollocks, as bad beer that will make you ill may also still be happy to settle clear –and perfectly drinkable beer may just decide not to.  It’s things like this that define the skill in producing/cellaring, and the joy in drinking, a live, natural product.  Ever since the Romans wandered Europe with wine and ale in animal skins has insinglass played a role in the presentation of drink.  Today it is better understood, and there is nothing else that is suitable for the job in cask conditioned beers – even bottled wines invariably contain the stuff, and indeed some kegged/bottled beers do as well.  I suspect that a number of soft drinks may also make use of the stuff as well.

Needless to say, the emailed reply turned up at just the right moment for a somewhat terse reply.  So that is what it got.  I have nothing against folk who eat nothing but vegetables.  Some of them certainly taste very nice (vegetables that is).  But why should we fight nature?  Who is going to tell the lions in Africa to leave off the wildebeest?  What about educating a Great White Shark, or a school of Piranha (perhaps an ASBO is in order there?).  And finally, where do you draw the line.  We could go fully organic (organic beer – if you are that worried about your health, alcohol may not be for you, lets be honest), and fully vegan friendly.  But how oh how do we stop killing insects with our dray?  I ran over a toad the other night – whilst trying hard to avoid the 17 I could see (I am not exaggerating).  What about the slugs and snails?  And what about the rodent controls any food place is required by law to implement.  Last time I checked, the Environmental Health Act distinctly failed to say that signs, education and a bit of persuasion were an acceptable means of pest control.  No folks, I’m afraid that all things considered, there is no food that is vegan friendly.  Even that home grown organic free range lettuce you’ll be picking this weekend has attracted a living creature that will relish eating another living creature…

To be fair, I agree with the guy concerned.  It is a shame to still have to use isinglass, but if we didn’t, we wouldn’t sell anywhere near enough beer to stay in business.  Sure, without it the beer will drop bright, but nowhere near quick enough for most landlords (their cellars just aren’t spacious enough for the extra beer they would have to stock), and even then there would be enough haze to be visible to the pub beer expert who would promptly (and incorrectly) declare the whole cask to be nowt but infected crap.

So if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go back to checking stocks of isinglass, then I’m going to check on the Wren we have allowed to stay nesting in a stack of empty casks (which we are desperate to fill), then see if I can find out if our lone Moorhen chick that has almost adopted me really is orphaned, whilst watching the progress of the Lapwing chicks that are being raised nearby.

My conscience is clear.  Smug maybe, but definitely clear…