Where does isinglass come from?

Where does isinglass come from?

Written by Oliver Coningham on 16 September 2016 in Vegan Beer

Yesterday morning as I enjoyed the last of the summer sun, it became apparent that another touchpaper had been lit. BBC News published an article by Liam Barnes entitled The fishy ingredient in beer that bothers vegetarians. It was another piece in the media that draws attention to the use of animal derived products and ingredients in the the brewing process. Beer drinkers are starting to realise there’s more to their favourite pint than water, malts, hops and yeast.

Throughout the content there is an inconsistency to the terminology used to refer to isinglass. It’s an error often witnessed when vegan beer is being reported upon. The Manchester Evening News recently fell victim to this mistake too, as did The Telegraph.

To be clear, isinglass is produced from the swim bladders of fish, not the fish bladder.

Fish have many bladders and this is where the confusion begins. They have a urinary bladder in which urine collects until it is full and then released. They also have a gallbladder which stores bile. Most importantly, they have a swim bladder. The swim bladder is a chamber that can be filled with gas thus enabling the fish to swim in different depths of water. It controls buoyancy, essentially allowing the fish to sink rather than swimming on the surface.

You’ll also see isinglass called fish guts by some, a term made popular by the outspoken Justin Hawke of Moor Beer. It’s an emotive phrase that proves divisive with many in the brewing industry. However, that is surely it’s intended purpose. To be provocative and illicit a response.

Additionally there was some issue taken with the mention of isinglass being used as an ingredient in beer when it is in fact a brewing aid. This does mean that it isn’t listed as an allergen as there shouldn’t be any evidence of it in your final pint. However, this is of little comfort for vegans when an animal product has been used in the brewing process.

“Raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.” - Rumi

Why does this matter? When we converse about a subject, especially one that is going to engender interest and response, it’s important that what we say is correct. It’s easy to dismiss what someone says if there are obvious mistakes. Too often you will see a written discussion or argument distilled down to a simple grammatical or spelling error when there is nowhere left to go in the conversation.

Veganism has an uphill battle when it comes to engaging with others. There are pre-conceived stereotypes and concepts that need to be broken. The more we can do to remove anything that distracts from this and focuses on the core message the easier it will be.

Lead photo credit: Shutterstock


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