In a word. Yes, whiskey is vegan. To understand why I’m saying whiskey is vegan we need to take a look at how whiskey is made. But first, you have to realize that there are 4 main types of whiskey that you can get most commonly.
The original whiskey is actually Irish whiskey, not Scotch whisky as many might assume. Irish whiskey is known not only due to it most often being a blend of pot-stilled malted and unmalted whiskey (often from barley) blended with column corn stilled whiskey, but perhaps most importantly to how Irish whiskey is dried.
Irish whiskey is kiln dried in a closed kiln without the help of smoke or heat under low temperatures which is the primary difference between it and its closest cousin Scotch whisky.
Scotch whisky is the second main type of whiskey and perhaps the most popularly regarded. Scotch whisky is spelt without the ‘e’ as you might have noticed, but that’s not what defines it 😉 What usually defines Scotch whisky is the malt drying process which gives it that smoky flavor. Having said that, you can probably guess how that flavor comes about!
Scotch whisky has the malt at least partially dried by smoking it over a peat fueled fire. As with Irish whiskey, Scotch is can be found single malted or blended. Single malt is always made with barley as the malting grain, though other grains, primarily rye and wheat can also be malted but are never used as the sole grain in single malt Scotch.
Like with Irish whiskey, Scotch whisky is aged in barrels for at least 3 years.
Third up is American whiskey, also known sometimes as bourbon and Tennessee whiskey. Bourbon got its name from Bourbon County in Kentucky. Bourbon must contain at least 51% corn, Tennessee whiskey at least 51% to a maximum of 79%. Both Bourbon and Tennessee must be aged for a minimum of 2 years, and the primary difference between the two is that Tennessee whiskey is filtered through 10 feet of sugar maple charcoal which is known as the “Lincoln County Process“.
The fourth kind of whiskey is Canadian whisky (like Scotch, spelt without the ‘e’) which is similar to American whiskey in that it is made primarily of corn, though sometimes primarily wheat and is more often a blended whiskey than a single malt. Canadian whiskey is aged for at least 3 years.
Whiskeys are considered spirits. And spirits are just alcohol based beverages that have been distilled to create a higher alcohol content, unlike mead, wine and beer which are undistilled beverages. Distillation is achieved by boiling the beverage over a fire or other heat source so as to concentrate the alcohol in the liquid.
Other spirits include rum, brandy, vodka and gin. All spirits are vegan, in that the ingredients ingested are non-animal based. Whiskey is made from grains as we’ve learnt, brandy is from wine (grape), rum is from sugarcane or molasses, vodka from potatoes or grains and gin from grains and juniper berries.
In the interest of full disclosure, some vodka might be filtered through charcoal, and some charcoal might be made by heating animal bones.
As a vegan for over 22 years now, I do not consider such products non-vegan. It is difficult to avoid any product that does not have the stain of animal cruelty. As one example, there is the chance of animal by-products in the ink in your pen or the tires on your bicycle or car or the asphalt you walk, ride, drive on, or the glue that binds the soles of your shoes.
If enjoying a drink of vodka now and then helps you remain vegan, then I’m all for it. We should not lose perspective, we should see the forest and the trees.
Vodka incidentally is similar to whiskey except that it is not aged.
Anyway, this was not meant to be a thorough guide to whiskey at all, just to give you some assurance that whiskey and all spirits are vegan. So enjoy in moderation. Personally, I do not drink at all, proudly celebrating 13 years of sobriety in July 2013.
Here are the ingredients used in making whisky: Water, malt (from grains, primarily barley), yeast and peat. The peat is used as the heat source for drying the malt. Scotch is aged in oak barrels. In fact, form my research, all whisk(e)y is aged in oak barrels, Irish whisky using bourbon barrels which are charred oak barrels.
A comment/question, if I may: I agree that whisk(e)y in itself is vegan, but how does the various barrels used for maturation affect this status? I mean, both sherry as well as port barrels are frequently used for maturation, and these are usually treated with either egg-whites (sherry) or pork gelatin (port). Wont the residue in these casks infused the whiskies matured and thus “de-veganize” the final product? Have you any information concerning this – or perhaps some wise thoughts to offer?
Anyway, I hope you’ll take your time answering me. Thanks for your time.
Thanks for raising this question. As mentioned in the post. It is not specifically an issue for me as I don’t drink at all, but you raise a concern that likely affects many vegan imbibers.
I’m okay with it. We’re talking probably about homeopathic doses of egg whites or gelatin getting into the whisky, and we know that homeopathy is bogus. I’m about the big wins. Get rid of the meat and eggs and dairy on your tables and use up or donate the leather, silk and wool. Don’t support circuses, rodeos etc. But if you happen to eat a piece of milk chocolate by mistake or even on purpose once in a blue moon, or you happen to enjoy whisky, or, horrors… Guinness which is fined by isinglass, that’s okay by me.
This is the real problem. We need to get more folks to embrace veganism. If we can, then many of these minutia issues go away as replacements are found because society as a whole starts to frown upon such practices. But I think that if society as a whole sees veganism as being filled with all sorts of obstacles large and small, most people will balk at even giving veganism a try. We have to make veganism seem easy, not a complicated minefield filled with militant minutia detail.
I’ll call you vegan if you drink Guinness, or egg white imbued homeopathic whisky 😉 Hope it helps. Great question!
Loved your paper and your answers. I’m a six year old vegan and I share your point of view. Many people see veganism as Something imposible, let’s not confirm that. OXO
Thank you Linda,
I think there are many of us who are, dare I say, reasonable vegans 😉
Can you back up your claim that Irish Whiskey is older than Scotch whisky?
Thank you for your comment Lynsey.
To answer your question, yes I can:
Irish whiskey is quite a bit older than Scottish by about 3 centuries, and by recorded documents, almost a hundred years older.
Irish eyes are smilin’ 😉
Definitely! Monks in Ireland started with whiskey… Later when some of the monks went to Scotland to “spread” Christianity they brought Whiskey what spread faster through Scotland than the Christian Believe Systeme as far as I remember it…
Thanks for your article, just FYI (even if you don’t drink), Guiness is now produced without isinglass and vegan friendly http://www.barnivore.com/products/34727-guinness
That’s good news. The world is becoming more vegan all the time. Thanks for sharing.