I've been vegan for eleven years and interested in alcohol ever since my middle-school friend let our seventh-grade class raid her parents' liquor cabinet after school on a short day. I binged on Captain Morgan mixed with Minute Maid diet lemonade (from the tube, fully concentrated) and then puked for three days straight. Of course, because I was/am an idiot, that only made drinking that much more appealing. But don't worry, this doesn't end like the mid-point through Drew Barrymore's True Hollywood Story; I was able to put myself up by my little alkie bootstraps and become a responsible member of the drinking public. That is, of course, until this past Saturday's Los Angeles Vegan Beer and Food Festival.
In its sixth year, LA's day of meat-free debauchery has become so massive that it now takes place at Pasadena's Rose Bowl. Now, you might be (slash definitely are) saying to yourself, "What the fuck is a vegan beer festival?" And I would say to you, "It's a festival with a metric fuckton of beer and food, and it's all vegan, and it's been going for six years because nobody can eat and drink like a wasted vegan. It must be their lack of protein?" Or, as one of the fest's three organizers (and vegan blogger) QuarryGirl says, "Vegans are huge drinkers! Sure, there's a sober and straight-edge contingent out there, but most of us love to get shit-faced just like the typical omnivore."
So what makes some beer un-vegan? While beer can have obviously animal-sourced stuff in it—like honey or bacon fat or whatever—the non-veganness can be sneaky. For example, many beers are clarified or filtered with gelatin, casein, glycerin, or isinglass, which are the dried swim bladders of fish. (Or, as a brewer from Ballast Point told me, non-vegan beer can be filled with stuff that's "fairly funky.")
The festival is the brainchild of QuarryGirl and two other industrious Los Angeles vegans: Tony Yanow, the owner of Burbank pub Tony's Darts Away, and Nic Adler of The Roxy on Sunset. QuarryGirl says the idea came about in 2010 when she was throwing back some beers with Tony and Nic. "We thought it would be cool to pool our resources and create the ultimate vegan party. Tony would handle the beer, I'd curate the food, [and] Nic would book the bands and provide the venue. A couple of months later, we threw the very first LA Vegan Beer Fest in the parking lot of The Roxy with about 500 attendees," she told me.
It kept growing from there because vegans are insatiable lushes. This year's festival promised to ply over 7,000 attendees, with more than a hundred regional craft breweries and vegan eateries serving everything from double-decker doughnut burgers to enormous sriracha peanut butter cups. I literally have a pool of saliva at the bottom of my mouth typing that because I'm the grossest.
Entering the imposing Rose Bowl, I came upon what couldn't be described as anything but a vegan field of dreams. The food vendors encircled the entire bowl and a seemingly neverending line of beer vendors running straight down the middle. Not only that—they were back to back, which meant double the amount of drinks in the same space. Genius! Basically, it was heaven for vegans (except that no dogs were allowed, which makes sense, but no heaven for vegans would be complete without three dogs, two cats, and a horse. And maybe a few wild animals. Basically, heaven for vegans is Tippi Hendren's ROAR, but without being mauled.)
While running between vendors like a kid who forgot her ADD medication on her first visit to Disneyland, I noticed that, yes, some vegans were throwing back beers between bathroom barf trips, but many more were respectful, chill, and ridiculously happy festival-goers who care just as much about jackfruit carnitas tacos as they do about getting blitzed. "I think it's because people are equally excited about the food, so they have time to rest and recover in between beers. I have never been to a fest other than ours where the lines for food are as long as the ones for beer," QuarryGirl says.
And that has to be true. I saw one vegan, grinning like an idiot, shed a single tear as she chomped into a deep-fried Oreo and wash it down with Babe's Belgian Vanilla Blonde. Yet another bought a giant salted caramel doughnut, took one bite, said it was "so good!", threw it away, and moved on to the next food both. When I asked her what the deal was, she said she had many miles before the dawn and could not waste calories on an entire item, no matter how tasty it was.
As the day progressed, wasted vegans wandered the Rose Bowl, filling their provided glasses with things like women-owned brewery Three Weavers' hot-as-hell Ghostface Killah, an IPA infused with serranos, jalapeños, habaneros, and ghost chiles, and Golden Road Brewing's smooth almond-milk stout, a welcome for vegans who usually can't get totally inebriated from milk stouts.
But that doesn't mean that everyone at the festival is vegan. QuarryGirl estimates that over half of the attendees happily partake in animal corpses and secretions. (I'm vegan and am thus contractually obligated to be this obnoxious.) "I think it's great [there are so many non-vegans at the festival]. We are here to show everyone that you can have an incredible time drinking and eating all kinds of foods without anybody dying for it," she says.
And this fest isn't just about getting blotto on lovingly hand-crafted IPAs; it's also about creating a sense of community and showing omnivores that vegans are just your everyday weirdos who just happen to think industrialized animal agriculture is bullshit and they don't want to give evil corporations their hard-earned dollars. It's depravity with a conscience, and it is a dish best served vegan (with a side of hops and barley).
A photo posted by LA Vegan Beer & Food Festival (@veganbeerfest) on May 16, 2015 at 1:47pm PDT
I cruised the grounds and see what utter, grotesque drunkards these bunch of cabbage-eaters are. Over the course of the day, the vegans got progressively more and more impaired until finally they were literally drawing giant chalk penises and pretending (?) to suck them, and failing breathalyzers left and right.
Don't drink & drive! #VeganBeerFest A photo posted by LA Vegan Beer & Food Festival (@veganbeerfest) on May 16, 2015 at 6:02pm PDT
A photo posted by Nick Murray (@robotmagic) on May 16, 2015 at 10:15pm PDT
Turns out that vegans love booze just about as much as they love watching a chicken cuddle a piglet.