If your heart sinks when you hear the words ‘I’m vegan’ from your customers, then you really need to wake up and smell the aquafaba, because this is a trend that isn’t going away. Isabella Sullivan reports
No longer conjuring up images of anaemic tree huggers in bamboo sandals, veganism has crept into mainstream society, and with that comes demand for top-notch vegan offerings. According to The Vegan Society, more than 542,000 people are embracing a plant-based diet in the UK, with veganism now classed as one of the fastest-growing eating trends ever.
Last year, Diageo announced that Guinness was going fully vegan across its range, eliminating the use of isinglass, derived from dried fish bladders, as a filtration technique for its beers. It joined a long list of brewers embracing 21st-century techniques, including Beavertown, Moor Beer and Freedom Brewery, making it easier for establishments to navigate a vegan beer offering.
‘Consumers are showing an increased interest in the ingredients used in beer, so offering an entirely vegan range is a path we will continue to follow,’ says Jonathan Smith, head brewer at Freedom. ‘Our beers have always been vegan, which broadens the appeal of our beers, without compromising our production methodology or taste in any way.’
Similar filtration methods are used in wine, where by-products such as blood and bone marrow, gelatine, and again isinglass are all typically used for fining. But, as with beer, vegan wine is on the up.
The retailer Co-op expanded its offering to 100 lines earlier this year, and the on-trade is following suit. At Gauthier in Soho, the vegan tasting menu now outsells the restaurant’s classic tasting menu. And when customers come for nosh, you’d better have some vegan vino to match.
‘They’re no longer a weird sect of people, [veganism] is now mainstream – it’s cool,’ says restaurant owner and vegan Alexis Gauthier on the rise in plant-based clientele. ‘Preconceptions make you imagine cloudy, homespun wine with a rustic artisan feel, blunt, harsh overtones and unsubtle blends, which is not true at all.
‘The only thing really standing in the way of most wines (and beers) being vegan is the fining agents… so it’s only really an aesthetic, or textural thing. Nothing to do with taste.’
This sentiment is shared by fellow restaurant owner Reto Frei of London’s Tibits, whose offering is more than 80% vegan, and 100% on Tuesdays.
‘More and more people want to know what is in their drinks or food,’ he says, and recommends that venues list vegan wines on their menus.
At Tibits, hot drinks receive the same treatment, and customers are offered vegan alternatives. ‘For coffees, offer your guests plant-based milks as an option,’ says Frei. ‘It’s not only vegans who want alternatives. There are more and more carnivores who have to reduce their lactose consumption for medical reasons.’
‘The default setting for sommeliers and chefs is “veganism is stupid”, and there is a stubborn refusal to acknowledge it. Work with it… embrace it!’ enthuses Gauthier.
Got (no) milk?
When it comes to cocktails, with their intricate components and ingredients, it can be tricky to be 100% sure if a drink on your menu is animal-free. Obviously, the egg needed for a Flip or Whisky Sour rules them out, but other ingredients used in some products are not vegan-friendly either. Do not despair – many alternatives exist to replace animal by-products.
Giving egg white a run for its money is aquafaba, essentially the discarded water from a can of chickpeas. When shaken, the liquid emulsifies, giving a texture and appearance perfect for a Sour, though it doesn’t last as long as egg white. There’s also Canadian brand Ms Better’s Bitters, which offers a vegan, egg-free foamer.
Used to add the texture and mouthfeel of egg white, without the smell or flavour, the bitters keep for months, and you need just a pipette of the liquid, so it’s easy to switch.
At The Liars Club in Manchester, the cocktail menu is 80% ‘accidentally vegan’, according to general manager Rory Bourke, with the other 20% available as vegan alternatives. ‘Making a large proportion of our ingredients in-house allows us to be confident they’re suitable for vegans,’ says Bourke. ‘For our Piña Colada and other dairy drinks, we just swap the dairy out for coconut milk and our Ray’s Amendment is just served without the foam, which contains milk proteins.
‘The drinks industry needs to keep one step ahead of the curve. Providing vegan options doesn’t need to be hard, it just requires more thought during the menu-creation process and a good, detailed staff-training programme.’
Tom Dyer, educator and owner of European Bartender School, recommends the use of avocados as a creaming agent in cocktails.
‘For creamy drinks there are plenty of alternatives, but I like oat milk and cream the best. Hemp milk is also good for anything that just needs milk,’ he says. ‘You can have all the regular drinks, but then look at making a vegan alternative for those that are not already vegan, and put it on the menu. Let your customers know that you cater for vegans and they’ll be a lot more open to trying the new fancy cocktails you have on the menu.’
As Bourke says, key to a successful vegan offering is staff training, allowing staff to talk about alternatives to those customers living a plant-based lifestyle.
‘Training doesn’t take a lot of effort and will make a huge difference,’ suggests Dyer. ‘We are still met with the tut and roll of the eyes sometimes when a bartender hears those two annoying words “I’m vegan”.’