Phew, they're taking the fish guts out of Guinness

Catherine Armitage
The fish guts is coming out of Guinness  in Ireland, but in Australia it's already gone.
The fish guts is coming out of Guinness in Ireland, but in Australia it's already gone.  Photo: Simon Schluter

You might want to toast a vegan next time you lift your arm to down the dark, thick syrupy brew known as Guinness.

Thanks to them, the fish guts are coming out. There will be vegan-friendly versions of the Irish-brewed black beer for the first time in its 256-year history.

After a campaign objecting to the use of isinglass, an extract from fish bladders used as a clarifying agent, the firm will stop using it next year when a new filtration plant is introduced at St James's Gate, its flagship brewery in Ireland.

Guinness to make vegan beer

If fish is used to make some beers, what other unexpected animal products are in our food and drink?

Guinness is brewed in Australia by Lion. A spokesman for Lion confirmed isinglass was not used in the local brew of Guinness.

Nor is it used in other Lion products: "Isinglass was used until December 2002 now no longer used", says a statement from Lion on the website Barnivore.com, which campaigns for the removal of animal products in beer, wine and spirits. 

Only a handful of niche brewers in Australia use animal products, Barnivore's directory says.

Guinness: a thick, dark, syrupy brew, soon to be without fish guts.
Guinness: a thick, dark, syrupy brew, soon to be without fish guts. 

However, Australian wines are much more likely than beers to contain animal products.

Among top selling wines, Yellowglen, Jacob's Creek and Houghton's do not recommend themselves to vegans or vegetarians. Brown Brothers and Wolf Blass have some vegan-friendly varieties and vintages, while many other well-known and boutique brands are vegan-friendly.  

Not just fish guts but other animal products including egg whites, gelatin and sea shells are used in processing drinks. They latch on to impurities so they can be caught in filters to ensure the liquid comes out clear. The manufacturers cannot guarantee that all traces of animal products are removed before bottling. Non-animal alternatives can be used for the same purpose. 

"Isinglass has been used widely within the brewing industry as a means of filtration for decades," Guinness said in a statement. "However, because of its use we could not label Guinness as suitable for vegetarians and have been looking for an alternative solution for some time.

"We are now pleased to have identified a new process through investment in a state-of-the-art filtration system at St James's Gate which, once in place, will remove the use of isinglass in the brewing process."