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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Adjunct Nation

Let us climb into the wayback machine and travel to that distant time of 1990. Many of you will have been too young to drink then (half the population was 17 or younger at the time), and probably the rest of you were drinking Hamm's. The Americans who had discovered craft beer resided in that fiery, fundamentalist stage of the just-converted. In their backlash against additive-laden tin can beers, they were Reinheitsgebot-curious, allowing exemptions for wheat, say, but little else. Breweries dabbling with fruit and honey were regarded with suspicion, if they were regarded at all. Other ingredients were dismissed with a sneer as "adjuncts." It was an article of morality.

Ah, how things have changed. I haven't run the numbers, but my guess is that something north of 75% of the brewpubs around town have a beer on tap with some formerly-suspicious contaminant. Last week, I stopped in to Laurelwood and discovered their Bay Laurel Pale. Last night, I moseyed over to Coalition for a pint of maple porter--one of my new fave beers. Ales adulterated with chocolate, coffee, pepper, herbs, and fruit are so common they don't even register as something to consider. The change has become so complete that even corn and rice make their way into beer--the two grains no brewer would ever have considered using twenty years ago.

Historically, of course, adjuncts were ubiquitous. Read through descriptions of some of the crazy English or German styles, and you realize that at one time, a barley-hops-water-yeast beer would have been an austere curiosity. The use of other ingredients seems more natural and obvious when you think about it; while malt and hops offer fair diversity, if a brewer wants to draw out certain notes, why limit himself to just these ingredients?

When brewers first used spices in their beer, they were considered gimmicks. Many times, that was the goal. But brewers have learned how to use a pinch of this and a dash of that the way a chef does, and the results are generally quite good; they add subtle notes that fill out the flavor profile.

Take Laurelwood's Bay Laurel Pale. I asked for a taster first, because I was worried the bay leaves would overwhelm the beer. Rich in essential oils--particularly eucalyptol--bay leaves have a dangerous menthol-like quality. But brewer Chad Kennedy essentially dry-hopped with them, and this quality is more suggestive than acute. I ordered Laurelwood's Space Stout chicken to comfort me during that false autumn we were having last week. The Bay Laurel Pale went brilliantly with it--an autumnal tour de force.

As for Coalition's Loving Cup Maple Porter--you can tell just from the idea that it's a winning combination. The darker amber grades of maple syrup are caramelized in a manner also directly on the continuum of malt flavors. Coalition's porter features that note along with the light aroma and flavor of maple. It's a dry porter--nothing oversweet about it--and the maple adds just depth and flavor. A perfect combination (and it will be a perfect winter beer).

My guess is that we're just seeing the latest stage in an evolution. In cooking, chefs are often reluctant to divulge their secret ingredients. Brewers are a bit more exhibitionist, and include all the salient details of recipe and craft. I could imagine a time, however, when breweries were less forthcoming. If I ask a brewer, "Is that cardamom I'm tasting?", they are happy to let me know. Perhaps in another twenty years (when I'm way, way past the median age), I'll just see a twinkle in her eye and get a shrug instead.


  1. I hear you but I want to have a great imperial corn stout before I buy into the idea that we have gotten past our collective puritanism.

    A Good Beer Blog

  2. I know where you're going, but yer just not quite historically correct. Herbs and other funky mash adjuncts were used prior to Hops and Barley. Gruit isa very old example of a German unhopped beer, sometimes made with other grains. The Belgians have been using Spelt, Oatmeal, coriander, pepper, cumin and tons of other weird spices for hundreds of years.

    Then we have this statement which you and I will be using slightly out of your original context.

    "The change has become so complete that even corn and rice make their way into beer--the two grains no brewer would ever have considered using twenty years ago."

    I assume you meant to say, 'No Craft brewer would consider using.." BUT THEY DID..

    BUD, Miller, Coors, Mexican Beers and other boring commercial piss water beers have been brewing with a HUGE selection of Rice and/or Corn in their Grain bills for over a century. England, Belgian, South AMerica, Canada, Denmark, etc. have also been using Corn and/or other grains in the mash bill for decades.

    As for Herbs and Spices.... Spruce, Pine, Heather, Elderberry, and various other herbs and spices have been used in Gruits, as well as other European ales for many years.

    People have used anything and everything to make beer for centuries. Hair of the Dog makes Greg, a Squash beer. If it has STARCH, it can be made into a beer and already has been.

    Here at home. During Colonial times they're make Beer out of just about anything and while the centuries turned and beer became a homogenized mess of light girly water that laborers and other blue collars still call manna from the Gods, Rice and Corn have been ever present.

    More present day.... Capital Brewing in Madison, WI has been making a Wild Rice ale since the 80's. Back east, Maple in beer has been done for years. Sam Adams used Maple in their now infamous Triple Bock, albeit the series ran from 94-96. In my old neck of the woods... Anchor was using Spice in the Holiday ale in 1989, maybe before. Anderson Valley used different spices and Oatmeal pre-1990. Now defunct(?) Dave's Cave Creek Chili Beer came out in the 80s and other than brewing a Rye IPA myself back in early 90's, Rye malt and other grain adjuncts were making their way into craft beers prior to 1990.

    So.... I would NOT say local beer is EVOLVING. I'd say it's either catching up; Coming Full circle or de-evolving(?).

    Lets not start talking about Barrels and Barrel conditioning being a new thing either... ;-}

    Here's a weird historical factoid! Hops were historically used in beer for two reasons. A. They thought it protected the beer from spoiling. B. To balance out the sweetness of the malt. The Hops flavor was rarely the focus with the exception of adding a nice aroma. Malt has been the flavor focus for thousands of years.

  3. Doc, I assumed the context was clear--that I was talking about the history of US brewing (though the move away from adjuncts has been universal--light lagers make up most of the world's beer). Your history is pretty much what I was alluding to.

    However, I like the critical comment! WAY too much agreement lately--

  4. I've been raving about the Bay Laurel Ale for months now... even filled growlers... it pairs well with corn!

  5. One big adjunct is missing from your list: sugar. It's still underutilized and reviled as a "cheap" ingredient by too many brewers and craft beer drinkers. The biggest flaw in most US made "Belgian" beers is the lack of adequate enough amounts of sugar which is why the US ones tend to be sweeter and less attenuated than the real thing.

    And even though the early models of most US craft beers were English beers, most US brewers have never bought into using sugar in English styles. But, according to Ron Pattinson's research, English beers between 1880 and 1960 averaged about 15% sugar. And it wasn't done as a cost cutting move (since during the Wolrd Wars that 15% sugar cost as miuch as the rest of the entire grain bill). It was used both for flavor and to ensure consistency since malt varied from year to year. Sugar manufacturers actually made specific products just for brewing. But ask most US brewers about sugar in a standard strength beer and they'll look at you like you're crazy.

    When will US brewers embrace sugar (as opposed to honey, maple syrup, etc.)?

  6. Ruby was a mainstay at McM's from well before 1990.

    ban Dr. Wort