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What To Look Out For In Drinks If You’re Vegan

  • 4 min read

For reasons from animal welfare to climate change to personal health and well-being, there’s no denying that veganism is on the rise. So much so, that between 2018 and 2019 it is reported that vegan cookbook sales doubled in South Africa. And globally, 2019 was such a monumental year in the shift to veganism that The Economist declared it “The Year of the Vegan”.

Many people already know what this means for the foods they eat. No meat, fish or any animal by-products. A careful look at ingredients in some items will tell you if it’s vegan friendly or not. But are you aware of what this means for drinks? Not all wine is vegan and certainly not every cocktail, either. 

We chatted to Melrick Harrison, barman at Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront, for some insight into what makes a drink vegan, plus some other insights into what ingredients to keep an eye out for. 

Q: What makes a wine vegan? 

A: When wine is made, one of the processes used is a filtering and or a fining process. This process is there to remove any particles or impurities in wine that can negatively impact the flavor of wine before bottling. Fining wine means that there’s an agent that gets added to wines. This pushes those impurities and particles toward the bottom of the barrel or tank, adding to sediment and murkiness that was already there. This is then removed at a later stage. However, it’s the agents used that will determine whether a wine is vegan or not. 

Common fining agents used in non-vegan wines are gelatin (collagen taken from animal body parts), isinglass (fish), egg white (egg), casein (milk), arthropods (invertebrate animals) and others. Vegan fining agents will include bentonite (a type of clay), limestone, silica (quartz sand), carbon (charcoal), and vegetable gelatin (peas or potatoes).

Q: What cocktail ingredients make a drink non-vegan?

There are quite a few to look out for. Worcestershire sauce is one of them. This is an ingredient that contains anchovies and fish sauce. This sauce is commonly used in Bloody Mary’s. Another one is egg white. This is often used as a tasteless ingredient for texture, to bind flavours and it’s  great for making foams. Of course, there’s also honey which is used as a sugar substitute. 

There are also dairy products such as milk and cream that are used in shakes, cocktails and some bars sometimes use clarified milk instead of egg white. Not commonly known is the use of dehydrated meat. In the bartending world this is called fat-washing (an infusion). It’s when you add something (bacon, droewors, biltong or grease left over from cooked meat) that contains a lot of oil to a spirit. You then freeze it. The only thing that will freeze is the fat and it can be easily removed. This technique is used to add flavour and texture (mouthfeel) to the spirit.

Q: What on your current menu at Tobago’s is vegan friendly? 

We are in the process of launching a new cocktail menu, which I can predict will sell like hot cakes. The new menu will be a lot more vegan friendly for sure and will have a number of drinks that vegans (and  non-vegans for that matter) should definitely try. 

There’s the Captain Churchill with flavours of cranberry juice, gin, Chambord liqueur and citrus foam. There’s also the Finest Catch, which is a mix of reposado tequila, Falernum, fresh lime juice, peated bitters and topped with citrus foam, a nori and black cardamom foam. 

And of course, there are the classics such as the mojito, pina colada and frozen strawberry daiquiri.

Q: Can you please share a 100% vegan cocktail/mocktail recipe?

I would rather take a classic cocktail and tell you how to put a vegan spin on it. A whiskey sour, for example, is a drink consisting of whiskey, lemon, sugar, bitters and egg white. It is a great cocktail that plays with all your senses and is very easy to make at home. The egg white is used to tone down the acidity and bind all the flavours together, and it adds a silky texture to every sip. We at the Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront use cellulose instead of egg white. It is the main substance that sits in the wall of plant cells, helping plants remain upright and stiff.


50ml Bourbon

25ml lemon juice

20ml simple syrup

10ml cellulosen (can be bought from baking supply stores) 

3-4 dashes aromatic bitters

Add all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker, add ice, give it a good shake until your hands start freezing. Strain into a tumbler over ice and garnish with an orange slice.