Beetlejuice and vegan cocktails

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing

-Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium”

Yeats was not talking about bug-based food dyes but let us stretch the metaphor, loving Yeats as we do.

After a teenage stint at veganism (a fine diet, if you have the time and money to spend pursuing it) I came of legal drinking age with a mind unruffled by ethical concerns where my alcohol was concerned.

But the world (and the Bay Area in particular) is full of cocktail enthusiasts with varying dietary and ethical requirements. Early in my California residency I bellied up to a bar where I was warned that my milk stout had lactic acid in it and I should choose another tap if I had lactose issues. That sort of statement made in Wisconsin would get you kicked over the border into Illinois.

Enlightenment to the plight of the vegan cocktail enthusiast came when I met Kathie,  a fan of Smuggler’s Cove and Whitechapel. To Kathie, menus were minefields: eggs, mostly; frequent dairy (there’s even a whey-based vodka out there); the odd pechuga; but also red spirits. Those, she pointed out, were frequently dyed with cochineal, which is insect-based.

Kathie called out Campari during our first talk. Indeed, Campari is a frequent target of vegan ire although the amaro hasn’t used cochineal since 2006.

Vegans concerned with the contents of their booze have a superb source in Barnivore, a site dedicated to identifying the creams, eggs, meats, gelatins, honey, and other animal parts and products that find their way into wine and spirits. Scanning their list is an education for the interested drinker, as it reveals more of the distillation and fermentation process than casual sippers are privy to.

While a world without milk punch, flips, and bright red amari like St. George Bruto  would make my world a little sadder, I deeply respect the concerns that drive Kathie and drinkers like her to the spirits their consciences demand. Other ethical concerns like sourcing (led by San Francisco’s Thad Vogler), sustainability, and water waste reduction (led by Jennifer Colliau and the Perennial) will also have an increasing impact on the craft cocktail world, I hope.

Let me raise a vegan martini to Kathie’s health — which is no doubt far superior to my own.

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