Rice in lager gets an image overhaul in the LA Times

Uhhm, Ill have a nice cold glass of rat poison, please.

Uhhm, I'll have a nice cold glass of rat poison, please.

For years ‘industrial’ lager has ben ridiculed for adding rice and corn as adjuncts to provide extra sugar for fermenting. The beer purists locked into Reinheitsgebot have accused brewers of cheapening the brew, watering it down for commercial gain, and generally being evil. All-malt is the best seems to be the general opinion.

But this week there was a story in the LA Times that describes how some craft brewers are experimenting with rice and corn ales. The horror! Well, not really, the Times’ story is nicely balanced piece describing how rice can be used for giving flavour, rather than taking it away.

“Yes, rice gives beer a light body,” says Brian Dunn, owner and brewer at Great Divide Brewing Co. in Denver. In 2007, the brewery released Samurai, an unfiltered rice and barley ale, to retail outlets. “But it’s also crisp and refreshing, and has a little fruity character that really comes through.”

Also quoted is Maureen Ogle, author of Ambitious Brew, a book exploring the history of brewing in the US, who says  “Craft brewers treat rice almost as if it’s rat poison.”

According to Ogle, the anti-rice sentiment is traceable to the early craft brewing revival in the 1980s. “It was all about, ‘We’re only using four ingredients, we’re not like those industrial brewers making watered-down, cheap beer by using adjuncts like rice.’

“The mythology is that these giant beer makers began adding rice and corn to their beer after World War II to water it down, but that’s simply not true,” she adds.

The American brewing industry was built in the late 19th century by first-generation German American immigrants such as Adolphus Busch, Adolph Coors and Frederick Miller. Although these men, craft brewers themselves, initially re-created the full-bodied beers of their homeland, many Americans had not developed a taste for the malt-heavy style.

“They needed a domestic ingredient that would make the beers more effervescent, bubbly and lighter,” Ogle says. “Rice and corn did that — it was a desired flavor, not inexpensive filler.”

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About Andrew

Former Grocer journalist and Carlsberg PR, turning lager historian
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