Dietary lifestyle choices such as being vegan (or vegetarian) renders any beer fined (making the beer clear, rather than cloudy) using isinglass undrinkable. Then we come to a whole raft of food sensitivities, intolerances and allergies, with the latter potentially having serious consequences. This is before we even consider thing such as alcohol units and the discrepancies across Europe; where the UK standard for alcohol is 8g compared to over double that in Hungary (17g). Thankfully most confusion surrounding this is mitigated by the percentage by volume of alcohol, which usually adorns a label, but there is the potential for confusion with some stock in the UK imported and not labelled correctly for the units.
There is a huge range of gluten-free beers now available to coeliacs and those of a sensitive disposition to the protein present in many, many grains, which are often used for malt in brewing. With time, the labelling on this aspect plus the overt marketing for a gluten-free beer means those who would normally have to suffer the rather awful symptoms can now enjoy a beer without fearing for stomach problems following a drink or two.
Sadly, there are still glaring issues that may not be initially apparent when it comes to a tipple and those of us who have dietary complications. With beers being brewed with ever more adventurous adjuncts and ingredients, there is a risk to labelling and ingredient consideration being an afterthought in an industry which can possibly admit to the biggest faux-pas in recognition of ingredients in its history; the German Reinheitsgebot (a purity law which initially stated that only barley/hops and water were allowed – neglecting the little powerhouse of fermentation, yeasts).
Recently, a personal acquaintance had a run in with beers containing peanuts, once in a pub serving Yankee Sandwich on keg (pump clip present but no mention of peanuts), ordering said beer before I intervened saving a rather uncomfortable situation later, thankfully his allergy is much less severe than many others’.
Another case of labelling confusion involves Mad Hatter’s Smoky Bacon Banana, which oddly enough contains no bacon or banana (the smoked malt and use of a specific yeast strain provides notes of these), but you’d have to read the back of the bottle to ensure you knew it was vegetarian friendly as the flavour imparted really does translate both the monikered elements. Another beer of note in the confusion is Buxton’s Yellowbelly, (a formidable and delicious peanut butter biscuit stout) has a remarkable flavour set including that, as would be expected, of peanuts. I felt the need to check on this, as the labelling did state that it did not contain any peanuts or derivative thereof. Upon contacting Buxton Brewery, I was informed that it definitely did not use peanuts or derivatives of peanuts in making the beer; however upon being served this at a beer festival, the ABV and name of the beer were the only things present on the pumpclip (this was before my query to Buxton). It took an enquiry with the server about the Yellowbelly to find out that the beer did not contain any nuts, although they were not 100% sure themselves.
From Buxton; “Yellow Belly doesn’t have any peanut or peanut derived ingredients in it at all - We are in fact required to be a peanut-free production site, as we supply M&S, among others, who stipulate it.”
I am surely not the only one who wants to know what they’re buying and drinking?
There are a number of other allergen-components in our beer which can trigger an allergic reaction from those susceptible. A variety of cogeners, histamines, preservative agents, pesticides and other animal products in beers in non-vegetarian friendly beers can all trigger a reaction ranging from anaphylaxis to a mild headache or stomach ache. In addition to isinglass, egg albumin and casein can be used to fine a beer, these can also trigger reactions in certain individuals, not to mention he presence of lactose in certain milk stouts – any unfermented lactose could trigger some unpleasant symptoms for those with an intolerance.
As of December 2014 there were a new set of laws that Publicans had to abide by with regard the point of sale for alcoholic drinks. Beer and wine are also governed by these new EU rules, which many places are probably still unaware of. Although it seems time consuming (indeed, a UKIP politician has commented on the unnecessary nature of labelling in a flurry of electioneering later on in 2014), there is also a positive side to ensuing people know what makes up their beer such as the avoidance of illness.
And also for information here are the allergen/food labelling laws change 13th December 2014:
So where do you stand with the labelling of beers, be they served in a bar, pub, festival or from bottle shop or off license? Should a full disclosure be given as to what constitutes our beer?
N.B. Article amended to reflect ingredients used in the Mad Hatter Brewery 'Drink Me Smoky Bacon Banana' - 22/09/2015