Fervent Few

Fervent Few — Adjudicating Adjuncts

Enlightened drinkers can’t wait to tell you that macro Lagers are made with corn and rice. You’ve probably pointed it out to a few people yourself. For years, the craft beer community has looked down on adjunct Lagers. But lately, craft breweries are starting to make Lagers with these very ingredients.

So, this week, we turn it over to the Fervent Few. Are macro Lagers a no-no, or is there a time and a place for them? Can a small producer turn these infamous adjuncts into delicious beers? Should we even still be having these arguments? 

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Alex Duell: “As a student in Dublin I worked at St James’ Gate/Guinness Storehouse for a couple of years. I remember a fascinating conversation with one of the brewers who was heading up the BUL of Budweiser for the Irish market. As a young lad, who had been lucky to grow up under the tutelage of a staunchly Real Ale dad in the north east of England, this was the first time I got to grips with what mega-brewing of adjunct lagers really meant (and seeing the craziness of a pint that cost literally 6 cents to produce being sold for €5.50+ in Dublin bars). 

This experience made me go militantly the other way for a couple of years: I become one of those dicks passing judgement & lecturing my Bud (et al) drinking mates. (“How can you drink that shit, don’t you know how it’s made?”) I stopped this at once when I had one of the best beer moments in my life: I finished my first ever half marathon in a decent time on an unseasonably hot day in Bath (UK) and a buddy of mine who was out to support me opened an ice box when I met him two minutes after crossing the line, he pulled out the coldest bottle of Bud you could imagine and I literally devoured it. Amazing, I can still feel how good that experience was right now (nearly 8 years later). From then on, I’ve never thought twice about grabbing a macro Lager when out with friends or somewhere where finding craft would be a hassle. 

Macro Lager has its (small) place in my drinking, and I can understand completely why its place in the general alcohol scene is so significant. To my knowledge, UK brewers haven’t started to experiment brewing adjunct Lagers too much, but I would be incredibly open to trying some & finding some new fridge staples. That said, if everyone would just drink Tegernseer Hell instead, the world would definitely be a happier place.”

Mike Sardina: “There are many reasons to use rice or corn (as adjuncts) in a beer. ‘Craft’ producers that are brewing beers with these ingredients are just as capable of brewing as good a beer as if they weren't using rice or corn. An all-malt Lager is not inherently better or worse than an adjunct Lager.

The flavors that are derivative of rice and corn are naturally suited to a lager profile. The BJCP style guideline for American Lager reads: ‘Relatively neutral palate with a crisp and dry finish and a moderately-low to low grainy or corn-like flavor that might be perceived as sweetness due to the low bitterness.’

I mean the word ‘corn’ is right there!”

Zack Rothman:Chris Lohring once called corn ‘the most vilified grain in America.’ The problem isn't with adjunct Lagers, it's with bland macro Lagers. The former can taste great. Just try The Mule from Notch Brewing, deliberately labeled as a ‘Corn Lager.’ The latter taste bland because that is what the brewer intends and what many consumers desire. As Chris would say, ‘Corn is just along for the ride.’ I'll drink macro Lagers when the situation calls for it, but don't drink them very often. I'd much rather have a beer made with corn that the brewer intended to be more flavorful. Corn is as traditional as hops when it comes to ingredients used to make beer. There's no reason it shouldn't be used more often in craft beer today.”

Johnny Swinehart: “After starting homebrewing and appreciating how beer is made, I do not care what ingredients will help make a better tasting beer. Imagine if someone asked you to make fluffy scrambled eggs and you were never allowed to use butter because it's a ‘shortcut.’ Then suddenly you tried it you would say what the hell was wrong with those people who didn't let me use butter?”

Nick Naretto: “When I originally started to care about beer I remember seeing things about adjunct beer and how it wasn’t real beer and it was a cheap shortcut. As I got a deeper interest in beer, I started to read about it and specifically remember reading a chapter on Belgian beers and what goes into some of them. Immediately I was a confused. How can these much revered beers be adding candi sugar, etc. into them? Since then I have had a different take on what definitions other people attach to beer.

Corn is native to the Americas, so I’d technically call it a traditional ingredient, but who said everyone is trying to stick to what is ‘traditional’ anyways? Traditional car wheels had no tires, times change, and you adapt to what you think works better for what you are trying to accomplish. One of my light beers of choice has rice in it. I drink whatever I think tastes good and fits a situation or moment the best. This isn’t Germany and we don’t follow Reinheitsgebot, so anything to me is free game. I’ve had a few craft adjunct Lagers and I’d typically rather just drink one of the best selling adjunct Lagers in the world, but that’s me. Drink it if you like it.” 

Freddy Clark: “Like anything, it's about intent. If it's serving a purpose for the taste, then why not? If it's being used as a cheaper replacement for more expensive ingredients, then you're on dangerous footing.”

Ian Davis: “My opinion on his matter is fairly simple. Good beer made by good people, that’s what I care about. As a homebrewer, I’ve used adjuncts when lagering a beer and it was a fun time trying something new. I will say this, if Rogue can use someone’s beard yeast to make a beer, then I’d say it’s probably OK to use an adjunct to get the taste, mouthfeel, and any other characteristic they desire.“

Alex Marino: “Brewers put enough dumb shit in beer these days that I wouldn't bat an eye at corn and rice. My reluctance to buy macro American light Lagers was never about the ingredients. If a craft brewer wants to use stigmatized adjuncts in their beer, go for it! And if they can tell me the reason behind their ingredient usage (for any ingredients, not just corn and rice), that's even better. If corn and rice deliver the flavor, aroma, and mouthfeel you're intending, tell me!”

Sean West: “Twenty years ago when I started homebrewing, rice and corn was a mantra of why my all malt beer was better but now I just see them as another ingredient. Plenty of British and Belgian beer styles use simple sugars to boost flavor, alcohol, and color. I would easily put them in the craft category. If I’m at a brewery I’ll often order their lightest beer first to gauge their ability since there’s so little to hide behind. Rice and corn general make that evaluation easier to do plus they are fantastic in the summer.”

Nate Wannlund: “The more I learned about beer, the more I realized it is a ceremonial fermented beverage which looks to the local available grains to ferment. The history of beer is filled with Brewers making the sweet liquid from rice (Asia), sorghum (Africa), Corn (South America), Barley and Wheat (Europe).  The idea of one being Traditional vs one being Adjunct is simply a matter of perspective and popularity in a particular area. When I fell in love with beer, I fell in love with the grain meets microbe spiced with herbs. The wealth of combinations make this drink great and in my humble opinion are all traditional and high quality if selected and brewed with intention.”

Do you find yourself reaching for the occasional macro Lager? Or do you keep your Lagers strictly adjunct free? Join the Fervent Few and engage in our healthy debates about beer.

Hosted by Jim Plachy