What’s in my beer? Part 5 – adjunct brewing ingredients
Ever wondered what beer is made of? You may already know about the four basics: malt, hops, yeast and water…but what about “everything else”? Follow along as we cover adjunct beer ingredients from starches, grains and sugars, to flavours, bacteria and more…
By David Nuttall on Feb. 15, 2018
In this final part of The Ingredients series, we look at the much maligned, but often necessary, adjunct beer ingredients.
What are Adjunct Beers?
First, “adjuncts” are anything added to beer that are not one of the four main ingredients. An adjunct beer is simply a beer that has a little (and sometimes a lot) more than your basic ingredients.
Most people know beer is made with malt, hops, water and yeast. What many don’t realize is there’s a bunch more stuff that can be added to beer. Sometimes they help define the beer style, other times they’re so subtle that they seem almost impossible to perceive, and occasionally they are used to keep the cost of production down. Whatever the reason, you’ll find them in more beers than you think.
Adjuncts are by no means new to the list of beer’s ingredients. In fact, since the beginning of its existence, beer has had a variety of ingredients tossed into the kettle, ranging from fruit, vegetables, tree bark, pine needles, spices, herbs, bog myrtle, seaweed, and more. Brewers later refined this into using gruit, a combination of herbs and flowers, until hops began to be cultivated in Germany c. 700 AD and became the primary bittering agent that balanced the sugars provided by the grains.
Hops worked their way through Europe in the succeeding centuries, while being both condemned and exalted in various countries. In Germany, several decrees were passed culminating in the Reinheitsgebot (German Beer Purity Act) of 1516, which was a food safety law enacted to keep unwanted ingredients out of beer. However, this period also coincided with the Age of Discovery, and many European countries were exploring new lands, cultures and foods in both the west and the east. As foreign products made their way back to Europe, some began to appear in beer styles created beyond the influence of the Reinheitsgebot. Today, these traditional beer styles cannot be made without the addition of adjuncts.
Adjuncts are added in either liquid or solid form and are categorized into one of four groups: 1. Grains or Starches, 2. Sugars, 3. Flavourings (Herbs, Spices, Fruits, and Vegetables) and 4. Bacteria & Others.
Grain or Starch Brewing Additives
Any grains used in making beer that are not malted are adjuncts. This includes unmalted versions of the usual beer grains like barley, wheat, and rye. In this case they are used to provide any combination of body, flavour, or colour. The adjunct grains most often found in beers are corn and rice, not only in North American lagers, but all over the world where barley is not grown or is too expensive. Often employed as a cost cutting ingredient in inexpensive beers, these adjuncts now characterize the style. Others in this category are oats, sorghum, cassava, and others.
Sugar Adjuncts – like Sucrose, Glucose and Lactose
The addition of candied sugars in Belgian style ales helps increase their alcohol content. Caramel, maple, honey, molasses, and other syrups contribute flavour and additional fermantables when combined with the right yeasts. Non-fermentable sugar, like lactose, is used for sweetness particularly in milk stouts.
Flavour Adjuncts – breaking away from a traditional-tasting beers
This category has the largest variety of adjuncts. Fruit beers are becoming more fashionable and thus more widespread. Almost any fruit can bring flavour, colour, sugar and aroma to a base beer. They can be employed subtly or become the major component, like in radlers and shandies. Mostly added as extracts (for convenience), fruit is sometimes blended in as a juice, put in whole during the fermentation process or as an infusion. Vegetables are used less often because they don’t have the sweetness of fruit. However, hot peppers and chilies are becoming a more popular ingredient. Of course, it wouldn’t be Fall if we didn’t have pumpkin beers. Beans occasionally show up in dark beers via vanilla, coffee or chocolate. Herbs and spices are in many beer styles and are especially prevalent in seasonal beers. They may be blended in almost any time during the brewing process, sometimes pitched in whole, or contained within large porous bags, hung inside the tanks.
Bacteria and other brewing adjuncts – from sour beers to doughnut-flavoured stouts
With the popularity of sours growing, brewers need to infect their wort with bacteria, which can come from a variety of sources, in order to affect the beer’s fermentation. The Others is exactly that. Brewers have fallen in love with throwing almost anything into beer, including cake, shellfish, doughnuts, Rocky Mountain or Prairie Oysters, squid ink, or whatever those mad scientists can dream up.
It’s clear that adjuncts reside in many beers. They’re obvious when it’s in the name, but often lie inconspicuously within. Since many bottles or cans do not list their ingredients and you certainly don’t see it on your pint glass, you may be drinking beer with adjuncts and not even know it. So the next time you’re drinking a macro beer or a Milkshake IPA , think about the often ignored fifth beer ingredient.
Want to know more about beer ingredients?
Continue learning about what’s in your beer in this 5-part series:
David Nuttall completed the Beer Judge Certification Program in 2012, has served as Epicurean Calgary owner and president since 2002 and is the current Judging Co-ordinator for Calgary International Beerfest. If you’re interested in learning more about beer, you can register for the 4 week ABF Brew Ed course at The Brewer’s Apprentice.
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