Hello! Welcome to Beyond Soy!
Is there soy in beer? This was one of the first questions we asked when we found out that Ashley was soy intolerant. In fact, one of the first posts on Beyond Soy was about drinking beer, wine, and cider with a soy intolerance. Wine and cider seemed to be okay, but we weren’t quite sure about beer. Reading ingredient lists on food packaging was one thing, but since beer doesn’t come with a list of ingredients, we didn’t know what was okay or not. After some research and a few years of trial and error, we’ve figured out that beer can contain soy, but it’s a little more complicated than just checking the ingredients.
In the United States, alcohol is regulated by the Department of the Treasury, not the Food and Drug Administration. As a result, the labeling requirements for alcohol are different than for food. Specifically, the ingredients of alcoholic products aren’t required to be listed on the packaging (or even disclosed at all, actually). There are some signs of this changing (within the past year the news broke that some brewers may start reporting ingredients on packaging), but for now, the ingredients of beer are unknown. We know that soy isn’t a necessary ingredient in beer, and therefore would hope it doesn’t contain soy. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.
Let’s step through the three types of ingredients in beer, beginning with the basic ingredients. At its most fundamental level, beer is made using water, yeast, hops, and malted barley or malted wheat. By varying the amount and varieties of these ingredients, many different types of beers can be brewed. The great news is that soy isn’t one of these ingredients! You don’t need soy to make beer! As we’ve discovered with most foods, when you break it down to the basic ingredients, beer doesn’t seem that complex, and it definitely doesn’t seem like it should contain soy.
Flavorings are the next ingredient. Flavoring ingredients can include everything from lemons and ginger to hazelnuts and pumpkin; essentially, they are the extras that are added to give a particular beer a particular flavor. We’ve never heard of a soy-flavored beer, so soy shouldn’t be present here. Most craft beers and microbrews use basic and flavoring ingredients to make a huge variety of quality beer with minimal ingredients. The problem for us lies with the next type of ingredients: the processing ingredients.
Beer, like any other food or drink, changes when it is mass-produced. Ingredients are added to make it cheaper to produce, to give the final product a more consistent color and flavor, and to increase its shelf life. Bread is a great analogy when considering what happens to mass-produced beer: a simple loaf of bread may contain only bread, water, yeast, and salt. As a result, this simple bread is soy-free (and delicious!). Processed, mass-produced bread, on the other hand, contains many additional ingredients including things like soybean oil and soy flour. As a result, mass-produced bread frequently contains soy, even when the base product (the simple bread) doesn’t require soy. Just like bread, mass-produced beer frequently contains many processing ingredients. Ingredients like corn syrup, stabilizers, preservatives, coloring agents, and natural flavors can all be added to help make the finished product cheaper and more mass-producible. With regards to soy, we are concerned about the natural flavors. Natural flavors can be made from soy! (they are hard to pinpoint because they don’t need to be labeled as an allergy, even on food packaging). Ashley has shown symptoms of her soy intolerance after eating some things that contain natural flavors, so we generally try to stay away from them. This is how soy gets into beer! Without these processing ingredients, beer would most definitely be soy-free, but since they are so pervasive, it can be hard to determine what beer is okay to drink.
Since some beer is soy-free and some isn’t, how do we choose what to drink? Ultimately, we figured out what Ashley could drink through trial and error, but we didn’t just start drinking random beers. First, we tried to narrow it down and select beers to try that are very likely to be soy-free. Once we’ve identified a beer that Ashley likes and that we know is soy-free, we tend to stick with what we know (or at least, brands that we know) to limit the chance of unknowingly drinking soy. We still encounter new beers and new breweries and we don’t feel constrained. We try them! Here’s the three things we do to avoid soy in beer:
- Avoid huge American beer brands (i.e., no Budweiser, Coors, etc). By avoiding these major breweries, we avoid the bulk of the mass-produced beer in the US. This is the beer that is most likely to use natural flavors that contain soy.
- Choose smaller microbrews or craft brews. Larger craft breweries like New Belgium, Sam Adams, and Dogfish Head seem to be okay, but we prefer even smaller, local breweries when possible. These smaller breweries are the most likely to use real flavorings and are highly likely to be soy-free.
- Choose European beer brands. While this isn’t a guarantee (Leffe, for instance, seems to contain soy), European beer brands tend to be less likely to use processing ingredients. German beers in particular are good options to try. Germany actually has a beer purity law (Reinheitsgebot) that requires beer brewed in Germany to adhere to a strict list of basic ingredients. Flavorings are allowed, but many of the processing ingredients common in US beer are not found in German beer.
By sticking with micro brews, craft brews, and European beers, we drink soy-free without stress. We’ve found a few major brands and beers that we know are safe to drink (Hoegaarden is our favorite), and we choose local beers when possible to eliminate the use of as many processing ingredients as possible (especially natural flavors). If you are in the mood for a beer, soy doesn’t need to prohibit you from grabbing a drink! Cheers!