When you think about beer ingredients, chances are good that you can come up with the classic four. Every beer needs some combination of water, yeast, hops and malt. Otherwise, it’s not beer. If you follow the dictates of the German beer purity law (the Reinheitsgebot), then that’s probably the end of it for you. However, craft brewers are more and more frequently going beyond the pale in terms of what they’re adding to beer, and it results in some interesting, and often delicious, results.
If you’ve spent any time exploring the world of craft beer, you’ve no doubt come across some rather startling, even daunting ingredients used. These range from Eggo waffles to liquid smoke, and even cooked meats. However, you don’t have to go off the deep end with wild ingredients to add body, taste, aroma and mouthfeel to a beer. Brewers use a very broad range of adjuncts on a regular basis that don’t fall in line with classic German brewing rules, yet don’t garner a raised eyebrow. What are those adjuncts and why are they used? Let’s take a closer look.
What Are Brewing Adjuncts?
Before we get too far down the rabbit hole, let’s take a moment to figure out what an adjunct actually is. Well, that’s where things get tricky. Some breweries claim that an adjunct is any source of starch that doesn’t come from malted grain. Others use specific types of malted grain added to the grain bill of a beer that would not ordinarily use it to achieve different results (oats, for instance, or malted wheat). Some adjuncts are added during the mash (prior to the boil), while others are added to the boil, or even to the wort after the boil depending on the type of adjunct and the desired goal.
And that’s the thing – adjuncts are added to achieve a particular goal. For instance, sugar might be added to bump up ABV without increasing the grain bill, or to create a drier beer with less body. Rye might be added to impart a spicy flavor, and oats can be used to increase body and give a beer a silky-smooth mouthfeel.
To be clear, the list of potential adjuncts is simply too large to cover in anything shorter than a novel-length book. It includes everything from common table sugar to hibiscus flowers, vanilla extract and more. Because of that, we’ll cover some of the more commonly used adjuncts and the reasons for their use.
Honey: Honey is perhaps the oldest fermentable in the world. Mead (honey wine) predates both beer and grape wine. In today’s brewing world, honey can be used to increase ABV while imparting more sweetness (due to the inclusion of some un-fermentable sugars), as well as increasing the body of a beer.