Patrons who have visited Vancouver Island Brewing since their 2017 renovations have experienced their new taproom, but may not have noticed one side effect of their upgrades: all of their beer is now vegan.
Chris Bjerrisgaard, the marketing director of Vancouver Island Brewing, said they’ve had increasing requests for vegan beer in the last few years.
“It is much more predominant,” he said. “The interesting thing is I don’t think a lot of people even knew beer could not be vegan. I think it’s when vegans find out they start contacting every brewery saying, ‘Is your beer vegan? Oh no, I’ve been drinking beer for so long and had no idea I wasn’t maintaining my vegan status.’”
So how is beer not vegan?
When beer is filtered, most breweries add fish bladders as fining agents to remove excess yeast and particles from ingredients like dry hops. The liquid is then run through scrubbing pads, but those pads will often remove hop oils, and the brewer has to add more hops. This makes the brewing process longer, and the use of fish bladder isn’t vegan.
“The reason why you want to remove those things is if you retain those in the beer, the shelf life of the beer goes down,” he said. “Beer’s an active, living product in most cases, much like bread. If you don’t remove all of the yeast, you run the risk of re-fermentation, cans exploding.”
Instead of using fish bladders to clarify their beer, Vancouver Island Brewing bought and installed a centrifuge while undergoing renovations. The centrifuge acts like the Gravitron carnival ride, Bjerrisgaard said. The liquid is poured into a bowl that spins quickly, the force of the movement making the excess yeast and particulates stick to the sides of the container and allowing the rest, what will eventually become beer, pull through.
“The vegan beer is almost an excellent side effect to something we wanted to do for the sake of quality of beer as a whole as well as cost on goods,” Bjerrisgaard said.
While it will save money on the fining process in the long-term, the centrifuge itself is expensive and set the brewery back nearly $250,000. Less expensive models are becoming available, but Bjerrisgaard said the technology is still fairly pricey, so it’s more often used by regional breweries.
Now, Vancouver Island Brewing is also in the process of becoming kosher.
“Luckily for us, we’re a brewery that never used lactose and we’re not using the fining agents for fish bladders. It’s a lot to do with meat and dairy that makes you either kosher or not,” he said.
Dairy is most often introduced by breweries when they add non-fermentable lactose sugars to sweeten dessert beers, such as milk stouts.
Bjerrisgaard said as far as they know, Vancouver Island Brewing is the only brewery in B.C. to undergo the Kosher Check certification.