American Adjunct Lager, the fizzy yellow swill that we drank before we knew any better, gets its name from the non-barley grains that are used to lighten the beer. But adjuncts are not always a dirty-word when it comes to craft beer; just ask any fans of wit beers, oatmeal stouts, or the plethora of rye IPAs that have been introduced in recent years. Creative craft brewers have taken the use of non-barley grains to new heights, but how do these less common grains impact the flavor of beer brewed with them?
Adjuncts, defined by John Palmer in How to Brew as “fermentables not derived from malted barley”, are used in a wide variety of traditional beer styles from Belgian abbey ales (candi sugar), to lambics (unmalted wheat), to Irish Stouts (oats). But these other grains are not always listed on a beer’s label; so how can you tell when a beer is brewed with additional grains?
Mike Reis writing for drinks.seriouseats.com has a great post called “How to Identify Oats, Rye, Wheat, Corn, and Rice in Your Beer” that explains the effect each grain has on a beer, and he includes suggestions for commercial beers to try to experience these effects.
Mike suggests paying close attention to a beer’s head, as this is often where adjuncts like wheat and oats are most obvious:
A fluffy, long-lasting white head is definitely a signature of wheat beers, but the grain contributes a distinct flavor as well. Smooth, refreshing, and lightly sweet, wheat just tastes different from barley.
Most beers that use oats boast this fact on their labels, but head and mouthfeel indicators will be your best bet for identifying the ingredient in beers that don’t. Dense, creamy heads that leave well-defined craters when bubbles pop often contain oats, and the smooth mouthfeel is a sure tip-off as well
He also explains why the macro-brewers use corn and rice in their light lagers: to lighten the flavor and body of the beer. However, not all beers that contain corn or rice are light lagers, and craft brewers won’t turn their back on any ingredient if they think it will make for a great brew (just look at the beers recently released that are brewed with oysters – actually very traditional, lobsters, or even bull testicles!) Beers like The Bruery’s Trade Winds Tripel and Japanese craft brewery Hitachino Nest’s Red Rice Ale take advantage of the body-lightening qualities of rice, and more brewers are trying out rice.
Corn has an even worse reputation as a beer ingredient than rice, but there are some traditional American breweries that cannot make their signature product without it. The Brewers Association has gone so far as to brand some of these independent, regional breweries “not craft brewers” since they don’t adhere to the BA’s definition of “traditional” – meaning the breweries flagship product is all malt.
We love a thick-and-chewy oatmeal stout or a spicy rye beer, and few things are more refreshing than a tart Berliner Weisse on a hot day. What are some of your favorite beers brewed with adjunct grains?
- Source: Serious Eats: Drinks – How to Identify Oats, Rye, Wheat, Corn, and Rice in Your Beer