Fish guts in Guinness and 4 other things you didn’t want to know were in your beer

Guinness recently announced they would no longer brew their trademark beer with fish guts. Which apparently means they were before.

Great news for vegans: Guinness will no longer use isinglass (the formal name for fish bladder) to filter their products. Many vegans and vegetarians don’t drink Guinness due to the presence and use of fish products. According to a statement from the brewery, “they have identified an alternative process through investment in a new, state-of-the-art filtration system at St. James’s Gate, which removes the need for the use of isinglass finings in the production of Guinness.”

While it’s delightful news that Guinness will not longer be filtered through fish guts, it does make you wonder what else brewers use for beer that tastes better than it sounds.

We found five to make your stomach churn. Read on at your own risk.

1. Fish guts

Isinglass comes from the swim bladders of fish; it’s a form of collagen and related to gelatin. It’s used to accelerate the fining of cask beers, which means it’s used to clear the yeast more quickly. The isinglass, yeast and other particles become a congealed mass that the beer makers then remove. However, technically, there may be some residual fish bladder in your beer.

In addition to vegans, who protest on ethical and environmental grounds, some beer drinkers also believe that filtering through isinglass takes away taste in the name of aesthetics. Many British beers use isinglass, while most German beers do not, on account purity laws.

Beers featuring fish guts: Guinness in bottles and cans (all draught Guinness from kegs is now isinglass-free); other cask ales; other British beers.

2. Crushed insects

Carmine, a red food dye, is made from crushed cochineal scales – often misreported as beetles. The bugs are sun-dried, crushed and dunked in acidic solution to create carmine extract. For better or worse, no actual bug parts end up in the extract – it’s “literally bug juice.”

A lot of products used carmine for years, but gradually companies – like Starbucks, who used to use carmine in their Strawberry & Crème Frappuccinos – moved away from the product due to consumer outrage.

Other bugs show up in sour beers too, though they tend to be used in bacteria or yeast form.

Beers featuring insects: Potentially anything vaguely red.

3. Beard yeast

This one is highly specific but disconcerting nonetheless.

Rogue Ales Brewery in Oregon wanted to do something special for their brewmaster, John Maier. So, they swabbed his considerable beard, that he hasn’t shaved since 1978, and discovered tehy could extract viable yeast from it. So, they made a whole batch of beer using yeast from his beard. Apparently, it has a “semi-sweet, hoppy flavor.”

Beers featuring beard yeast: Rogue Beard Beer; the brew of your neighborhood bearded home-brewer, probably.

4. Civet poop

Civets are nocturnal mammals that kind of look like weasels or cats. Sometimes, they eat and digest coffee berries, the excrement of which is used to create some of the world’s most expensive coffees.

Now, craft breweries are turning to civet coffee, i.e. civet poop coffee, to create their coffee-flavored beers.

You can also find beer flavored with elephant-digested coffee beans in Japan, in the form of Sankt Gallen Un, Kono Kuro.

Beer featuring civet poop: Perrin Brewing Company Big Konas; Mikkeller Brewery Weasel.

5. Testicles

The case of genitals in your beer is another brewery-specific inclusion. “Rocky Mountain Oysters,” as the bull variation are called, are found in Wynkoop Brewing Company’s Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout. So, at least it’s right there in the name. Unlike the fish guts, dried insects and beard yeast, the “roasted” bull testicles actually do contribute to the flavor of the beer, giving it a “savory finish.”

Whale testicles have also made an appearance in beer, specifically from an Icelandic brewery called Stedji. The beer, called Havalur II, incorporated whale testicles “smoked in the traditional way, using sheep excrement, which gives them a meaty, smoky flavor.”

Beer featuring testicles: Wynkoop Brewing Rocky Mountain Oyster Stour; Stedji Havalur II.


Alarming as all this information may be, if you drink enough beer, it is possible you’ll forget you ever read this. So at least there’s that?