If you have taken a tour of a craft brewery you have likely heard the word, adjuncts. Yes, it is a dirty word in the craft beer community. But is it? It is often presented as a dirty word, when many craft brewers secretly (or not so secretly) use adjuncts.
In case you aren’t familiar why adjuncts are presented as a dirty word, I’ll tell you. In 1516 Germany passed a law, Reinheitsgebot. This law pertained to what ingredients could be used in beer. Today, it is commonly referred to as the German Beer Purity Law. Basically it states that the only three ingredients could be used in the production of beer; barley, hops, and water.
The Reinheitsgebot was originally drafted as a price control for rye and wheat. Medieval times food shortages could be common, and they did not want brewers and bakers competing for ingredients. While the Reinheitsgebot is not really adhered to in the United States, it is the basis for what we call an adjunct. Adjuncts are any ingredient that is not in the Reinheitsgebot, with some exceptions. For this post’s purposes I am not considering wheat, rye, or oats as an adjunct.
The post-prohibition lager that rose to dominate the United States beer market was based on the German (or Czech) Pilsner. The Pilsner was clean, crisp, refreshing, and was well known among the German immigrants who were the primary brewers in the United States.
The beer market had started to be taken over by larger regional brewers that were brewing to the lowest common denominator in an attempt to satisfy consumers who had previously been accustomed to the flavors of their local pre-prohibition brewers. This created the more bland flavors that we now associate with the macro brands.
As time went on, these brewers grew very large, and to satisfy their commitment to shareholders they needed to cut costs. Many started using cheaper grains like corn and rice or using additional sugars to create their bland, lifeless beers.
That is what you will hear on many a craft brewery tour. But what they don’t tell you, is they use adjuncts too.
The difference is why they are using adjuncts. Large brewers use adjuncts to cut costs and craft brewers employ the use of adjuncts to enhance the flavor of their products. While wheat and rye haven’t been considered adjuncts for some time, many ingredients are. Any of us who have enjoyed Coffee Stout or a Pumpkin Beer have had a beer filled with adjuncts. And I’m certainly not complaining about what wonderful products have come to market with the use of adjuncts.
So to clarify what adjuncts are used, I will list many of them, and supply a good example of a fine brew that uses that particular adjunct.
Chocolate. Oh yeah, the wonderful bitter sweet dessert item beloved by many is indeed the dirty word adjunct. But one I quite enjoy in and out of beer. Chocolate is a great compliment to many stouts, porters, and other dark roasty beers. I personally like my chocolate with some peanut butter in cup form. So this is why DuClaw Brewing Company released Sweet Baby Jesus, a chocolate peanut butter porter. This beer is probably the best example of adjuncts on the market today. Not only does it use chocolate, but the peanut butter flavor is derived from artificial flavors. For those of you about to call your congressman calm down. Peanut butter is pretty much impossible to brew with, and if you have a problem with artificial flavors you might want to start reading the labels of the food you are eating.
Rice and Corn. These are popular adjuncts in macro beers, and probably the original ingredients that caused outcry from the craft brewing community. These grains have been used as a cheap way to add fermentable sugars and keep the American Light Lager that exceptionally pale hue. But today, some brewers are using these ingredients to create wonderful beer while simultaneously poking fun at macro brewers. Enter Stillwater Artisanal Classique and Premium. Both are described by the brewer as a post-prohibition ale. Stillwater is using a grain bill very similar to the Baltimore classic of days past, National Bohemian. But under the care and expertise of Brian Strumke, this turns into a tongue in cheek classic.
Bacteria. Yeah, I said it, bacteria. This is a dirty word everywhere. You generally don’t want bacteria anywhere around you, much less in your beer. But put the phone down slim, it’s okay. It’s not going to hurt you. Brettanomyces and Lactobacillus are the most popular bacteria used today. Brettanomyces or Brett creates a beer that has evolving characteristics that are range from band-aid to musty but always have a dry character. While Lactobacillus is used to create a sour, puckering flavor, used in Balgian style sour beers like Oud Bruin. Stillwater Premium that I mentioned above is essentially Classique with two strains of Brettanomyces. Other excellent Brett Beers are Jolly Pumpkin Bam Bière and Green Flash Rayon Vert. Some excellent examples of Lactobacillus are The Bruery Tart of Darkness and Duchesse De Bourgogne from Brouwerij Verhaeghe.
Coffee and Tea. Don’t really need to explain either of these. But some of the most critically acclaimed beers on the market use them. AleSmith Speedway Stout uses coffee as does Founder’s Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS). Flying Dog is one of the few breweries that uses tea. They recently created a Green Tea Imperial Stout. Coffee stouts are wonderful, and I am glad these breweries use it. Vive la Adjunct??
There is a complete style of beer based on adjuncts. The beloved Pumpkin Beer. Every fall our local stores are crowded with what seems like hundreds of Pumpkin Beers. All of these beers are based on Gourds (adjunct) and lots of spices (adjunct). Fruits and Vegetables are considered adjucts, even though they are extremely popular. Spices are as well. Some may think that spices aren’t in a lot of beer, but they are. Coriander, peppercorn, white sage, ginger, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, and more are all used in beer. One of the first brewery tours I can remember where the tour guide was condemning the use of adjuncts also makes some of the most popular adjunct laden beers on the market, Dogfish Head. Their Aprihop is a spring seasonal IPA made with Apricots, and it is delicious. And the ever popular Dogfish Head Punkin Beer tops many best pumpkin beer lists.
Sugar. There are lots of different sugars. Belgian Candy Sugar, Honey, Lactose, Agave Nectar are all common placed sugars added to beers. Adding sugar can do different things. It can help give a beer a dry finish while boosting its alcohol content. Sugars can also cause a general change to the flavor characteristics present. I brew an Agave Imperial Pale Ale personally and find the Agave helps provide additional alcohol and a bit of fruity sweetness. And finally how can adjuncts be bad when what many consider the best beer in the world uses them? Westvleteren 12 is considered by many to be one of the best (and most elusive) beers in the world. Sold only at the source in an unreasonably complicated manner, it pops up on the grey and black market frequently. And one of its core ingredients is Dark Belgian Candy sugar.
I am not writing this to defend large brewers, or to condemn craft brewers. But to say, we need to remove adjunct from the dirty word list. Like many things in life, when it is used correctly it can be wonderful. So next time you hear someone mention adjuncts in a disparaging manner, remember this article.