While there's an assumption that beer, wine, and liquor are dairy-free, it is not always the case. Some of these alcoholic drinks are processed using milk ingredients, specifically casein and lactose. Casein, a protein found in all milk products, is sometimes used during the fining process (for clarifying liquid) in wine-making, while beer sometimes uses lactose (the sugar component of milk) to add richness and body, especially in dark beers such as milk stouts, sweet stouts, and cream stouts. Most liquors are safe, but some still use animal products and byproducts in the fining process, and some liqueurs, such as Baileys's Irish Cream, directly use dairy products like milk and cream.
How can you find alcoholic beverages that are dairy-free and safe for vegans? Between using some online sources, going straight to the beverage brand, and visiting specialty liquor stores, you should be able to find wine, beer, and liquors that will work for you.
Since alcoholic beverage ingredient lists will not include casein and lactose, how can you know which are dairy-free? There are a few resources to guide you, including Barnivore, an excellent website to help you find vegan wines, beers, and liquors that will be free of all dairy products, animal products, and animal byproducts.
VegNews has also compiled several helpful guides for the dairy-free or vegan beer and wine connoisseur. You can also look for wines and alcohols that are labeled as kosher, as these usually will not use milk products. If you are vegan, make sure that eggs are not in the ingredients.
Specific Alcohol Brands
Another way to ensure you are drinking vegan and dairy-free alcoholic products is to check your favorite brands. Vegan.com lists brands that are free of animal and dairy products, but to be sure you'll also need to check each brand's site.
For example, vegan.com lists: Absolut, Bacardi Rum, Grey Goose, Hangar 1, Malibu Rum, and Skyy Vodka as liquors that are free of animal goods. For vegan beers, they have Budweiser (except their Clamato variety), Coors and Coors Light, Miller Lite (High-Life and Genuine Draft), Pabst Blue Ribbon, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and Yuengling as clear and free of animal products. Their vegan wine list includes Charles Shaw (red wines only), Frey Vineyards, The Vegan Vine, Red Truck Wines, and Yellowtail (red wines only; not white or rosé).
Since some brands have exceptions for certain varieties of their products, it is best to call or check with each brand. Products change over time and companies don't always notify the public or other vegan or dairy-free websites to help keep them up-to-date for consumers.
Specialty Liquor Stores
Once you know what brands to look for, you need to find out where you can purchase them. Your search for vegan alcoholic drinks can start at your local grocer or specialty alcohol stores. Typically, specialty stores will have a special section for vegans or those with dietary restrictions. You should ask about the manufacturing process of certain wines and if any animal by-products or dairy-derived products were used including gelatin, isinglass, chitin, albumin, or egg whites.