BENNINGTON — If you think beer and wine are vegan, Nancy Koziol has some disappointing news for you: Much of it isn't.
Isinglass is just one of the animal-based products used to reduce haziness in alcoholic beverages. It's a type of gelatin derived from sturgeon swim bladders, and since ingredients do not have to be listed for alcohol, many are not aware that the brew they're sipping is not necessarily animal-friendly.
This is just one of the subjects Koziol wrote about in her 133-page book published in October 2018: "The Joy of Brewing Cider, Mead, and Herbal Wine: How To Craft Seasonal Fast-Brew Favorites at Home."
The book's 15 chapters walk the reader through ethical production of one-gallon batches of cider, mead, and herbal wine. Not only does it describe the process for brewing these beverages, it focuses on ethical sourcing of ingredients, gives advice on describing flavor profiles, and how to troubleshoot an array of homebrewing mishaps.
When Koziol began writing for popular wine blog, Winedom, a couple of years ago, she had no idea her foray into the blogging world would lead to her first published book. Not only is the book available on Amazon, it held the spot of number one in Amazon's "Hot New Releases" in the beer category for "over a week straight," Koziol said.
"It was crazy," Koziol said. "I think it was the day it [released] ... I happened to Google myself, and when I saw [the book] I saw this little tab that said "number one!" I was like "Oh, that's kind of a big deal!"
After she began writing for Winedom, she wrote for a number of other wine-based blogs before starting her own, The Oethical Oenologist, which explores the ethical production and consumption of alcohol as well as homebrew recipes.
Last year, Skyhorse Publishing, based out of New York City with an office in Brattleboro, reached out to Koziol via email after reading some of her writing on various wine sites.
"It's not the way it usually happens," Koziol laughed. "Before, someone said to me: `Well, maybe you'll get discovered [writing blogs]' and I was like, `That doesn't actually happen."
But it did.
Naturally, Koziol jumped at the chance to write the book. She spent most Tuesdays starting in winter 2018 at local co-working space The Lighting Jar, writing the book over the course of six months.
"On Tuesdays I was, like, hunkered down," she said. "That was a really great place to get stuff done."
The publishing company gave Koziol an idea of what it was interested in and let Koziol do the rest. Koziol decided to involve the subject she had become so familiar with: ethical production and consumption.
"I really liked the idea of not doing a typical brewing book, but looking at how to do it in a way that's really friendly to your local community," she said. "So [in the book] I focused on one-gallon batches using local ingredients and cutting water waste and food waste."
By October 2018, the book was available to purchase at the Bennington Bookshop and online at Amazon.
In the beginning of the book, Koziol outlines homebrewing advice like what equipment to use, and how to siphon ("because that's the hardest part of brewing," she said), then she launches into detailed sections about mead, then cider, then herbal wine.
For each drink section, Koziol breaks down what the drink is and how to brew it properly. Additionally, readers can learn about what makes different flavors and how to describe flavor notes when tasting. She also offers suggestions on what to pair with each of the drinks.
Koziol notes the importance of the book's section on troubleshooting.
"A lot of the time, people just lump everything into `it's flawed' but if you can describe what the flaw is, it's a lot easier [to troubleshoot]," she said.
Of course, Koziol also included a small section in her book for vegan homebrewers, raising awareness that not all drinks are necessarily vegan.
During the "fining" process, a brewer will often add substances to the beverage to make it less hazy. Isinglass and egg whites are common animal-based agents used to bind to the "hazy stuff" and weigh it down, Koziol said.
While the binding agents are brewed out of the beverage before the end product, the fact that these agents are used cause concern for conscious drinkers.
"If you're a vegan, that doesn't work," she said.
If you must clarify your brew, Irish moss works just fine, Koziol said. But many people — like Koziol — are now turning away from clarification at all and are embracing the hazy look.
"I don't clarify anything," she said. "The hazy look is in. Natural wine is all the rage."
Wine tasting meetups
In addition to her blogging contributions and recently published book, Koziol finds other ways to involve herself in the world of wine. Last summer, she created the unpretentious Bennington Wine Tasting Meetup group, which meets two to three times a month to taste and enjoy various wines.
It all began when she took a class with the Wine & Spirits Education Trust in New York to earn her Level Two certification. She was tasting up to 18 wines per day and expressed to her instructor that she would like to continue. Her instructor recommended she begin a local wine meetup group so each member could bring a bottle of wine for all to taste.
The group, consisting of a "core" of about six members and around 10-12 members at each meetup, usually focuses on a grape variety or wine region— like wines of Catalonia. When she returned from a trip to southern France, the group held a meetup to taste wines from that region. Lately, she says the group has ventured further into holding blind taste tests.
"It's so much fun, and it's especially fun for us because it can be really intimidating to 'blind,' but the newbies always win," Koziol said. "Every time we play, the newbies win. I think it's because you're more careful when you're new."
The group has now designated the first Tuesday of the month to blind taste tests.
"I hear a lot around town: `There's nothing to do in Bennington," she said. "Oh, there is so much to do and this is just one more thing. It's a great way to meet people. I've met people through this I would have never come across otherwise."
Koziol is always looking for new enthusiasts to join the group, which can be found by searching "Bennington Wine Meetup" on Meetup or Facebook.
Besides having fun, Koziol hopes the group can help people realize that being enthusiastic about wine does not go hand-in-hand with the stigma of wine being pretentious.
"A lot of the times people assume wine is snobby," Koziol said. "Wine is such an amazing thing. It's culturally important and historically important. If you have an interest in a particular cuisine and explore the wines with it, it open up a whole new world of flavor."
"People think: `Oh, wine ... It tastes like wine.'" she added. "It does, but if you really take the time to get to know it, it's incredible."
While Koziol is currently focused on some upcoming trips and exam to take, new book ideas are already percolating in her mind. She hopes to begin writing another book in the spring if her schedule allows.
For now, she hopes that "The Joy of Brewing" will inspire potential homebrewers to give it a try.
"If you've thought about brewing beer and it's just too expensive, this is a really nice alternative that yields high-quality drinks — once you put in the work," she said. "I think reading it will probably excite people about trying something new, even if it's just one person who takes on brewing and falls in love with it."
Christie Wisniewski can be reached at email@example.com and at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.