Adjuncts and Beer

Whenever you hear people talking about the ingredients that go into beer, you’ll typically hear mention of the following: Water, barley, hops, and yeast. So ingrained (if you’ll pardon the pun) are these ingredients that there is a German Law called the Reinheitsgebot, a purity order that demands that all beers must be made from these ingredients only.

Outside of Germany, it’s a little more complicated than that. Yes, many people can and do make great beers with only these base ingredients. But when brewers start adding additional ingredients, things start getting very interesting.

These additional ingredients, called ‘adjuncts’ typically fall into one of three categories:

  1. To add flavor.
  2. To supplement a basic beer characteristic.
  3. To save money.

It’s that last bit which causes a bit of controversy in the brewing world, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

Outside of Germany, we see brewers adding all sorts of flavor adjuncts to their brews all of the time. A pumpkin ale is a great example, where a brewer added bits of pumpkin are added to the mash with the goal of getting a distinct pumpkin flavor. The flavor works twofold – both in the mash itself as well as the converted alcohol. The yeasts are not choosy when it comes to they eat, and whether its from malted barley or vegetable chunks, it matters very little.

Other types of flavor adjuncts one might see include everything from maple syrup to juniper to even oysters.

The second type of adjunct includes anything added to supplement a beers characteristic. For example, the use of wheat in a pale ale in order to make sure that a sturdier head is delivered would mean that the wheat is an adjunct to the pale ale recipe. The use of roasted grains to deliver a darker color, or oats used to change mouthfeel would also be adjuncts that fit into this definition.

The final category is the one that most American Mass Brewers fall into – the use of adjuncts in order to save money. Most beer recipes call for barley, it should be noted that there are two other grains that are far cheaper to purchase – rice and corn. Anheuser-Busch, and MillersCoors use these two grains in their beers, some would say to an excess.

As far as I know, you can relate to the grains this way – Budweiser= rice, while Millers=Corn. The brewers at these companies will say that their using these adjuncts to add sweetness, or to lighten their beers. Most craft brewers say that the benefits that the use of these grains brings don’t outweigh the detriments that come along with their use – mostly the loss of body, character, and the essence of what makes a “true” lager.

That last bit is really the most contentious of the divisions between craft brewers and industrial brewers. At what point does the recipe have to change in order to create something other than what the initial recipe hoped for. At some point Miller’s made a solid pilsner. At some point, Budweiser was likely a full bodied lager. But over the years, they’ve changed the recipe so much (by adding corn and/or rice) that the result was something other than their intent. For all of their marketing and all of their public relations, there is a difference between a lager made only of barley, hops, and yeast, than one made of barley, corn, hops, and yeast. The craft brewers love to point this out, while the industrial brewers would wish that consumers didn’t notice.

But that’s a conversation for a later date. All one needs to know at the moment is that adjuncts are that x-factor, that unknown variable that can be put into brews to create something new, or unique. It can the beer cheaper to produce, or more expensive, depending upon the ingredient. It can make the beer taste better, or in some cases, taste worse.