Science | WARNING – This drink may include…

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Everything comes with a label, whether it’s a tin of beans or a new sofa; the composition, contents and origin of the product should always be on there.  However, alcohol companies hold a special place above the rest, free from the legal obligation, in divulging the contents of their products. But, what is the problem? Wine is just fermented grapes isn’t it? Beer: water, yeast and barley; vodka, er… potatoes? LS Science peels back the label revealing the true contents of your drinks.


Because the listing of ingredients is voluntary, your tinny will often tell you it only contains barley, hops and yeast, ignoring the other ingredients lurking in the golden liquid somewhere. It is that golden colour that they are probably not wanting to explain. Marketed as ‘natural colouring’, they are more often than not the produce of: insects, calcium disodium EDTA (which contains formaldehyde), monosodium glutamate or propylene glycon (a common ingredient in anti-freeze).

You will also be surprised to find some beers aren’t even vegetarian. Guinness, Ireland’s un-official beverage, is filtered through Isinglass – a gelatine-like substance extracted from the swim bladder of fish and added to the beer to mop up residual yeast and waste particles. Selling a whopping one million pints in over 100 countries per day and 13 million pints on Saint Patrick’s day means a lot of Isinglass!


Wine is possibly the worst offender for the sheer number of additives included. Although heavily regulated by the EU, the approval list includes over 50 flavourings, additives and preservatives. These shortcuts aren’t just used by the cheap brands. Jacob’s Creek uses clay and milk powder in its premium products. Hardy’s includes eggs, milk and gelatine. Cheaper wine brands, for those traditional oaky notes, are forced to add wood chippings to imitate the effect. Not quite the romantic vineyards and grape pressing the adverts would lead us to believe.


Counterfeit vodka is big business, costing the UK £1.2 billion a year. Clubs in Leeds had over 600 litres of ‘premium vodka’ seized by police with analysis of the vodka finding it to contain such delights as:

Isopropanol: A chemical solvent used to clean automotive parts and electrical equipment such as a greasy laptop keyboard or windshields.

Butanol: Used predominantly in the textile industry as a paint thinner, also found in brake fluid.

Chloroform: A powerful anaesthetic and central nervous depressant.


Henry Beach

Photo: Rosanna Pound-Woods

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