“Adjunct” is one of the many words our society has groomed us to believe we need to stay away from in our food and beverages. This is good advice in some cases, but adjuncts aren’t all hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup. Brewing beer is fortunately a very natural process that doesn’t require a lot of extra “junk” to produce something tasty and healthy to drink. I think you’ll find the adjuncts used in brewing to be a little more familiar and friendly than you think.
In the beer world, an adjunct is a source of sugar used in the brewing process that isn’t malted barley. This includes corn, rice, wheat, rye, oatmeal, honey, plain sugar, and a few others. Most of these have starches that need to be broken down into sugars before the yeast can make beer out of them. And aside from adding sugar, they can increase head retention, improve mouthfeel, lighten the body, and/or provide desirable flavors. Now that’s not so bad, is it?
Many beer substyles are characterized by the use of a certain adjunct, and wouldn’t exist without it. American lagers contain up to 40% rice or corn adjunct, which lightens the body. This is why these beers are so incredibly drinkable. Craft beer fanatics have slammed macro-breweries like Miller, Bud, and Coors for using rice and corn as a cheap substitute for malted barley. But it’s less about cutting corners and more about making a product that’s easy drinking and accessible to a wide range of palates. A beer like that is much easier to achieve by the use of adjuncts. It’s not a beer I’d personally promote or drink every day, but I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t have a few cans of PBR in my fridge.
And what about wheat beer? Berliner weisse, hefeweizen, weissbier, weizenbock, lambic, witbier – None of these styles would be the same without the use of wheat adjunct. Wheat adds a gentle spicy, grainy flavor to beer, along with a fuller body and long lasting, mousse-like head. The variety of seasonal beer available in the summer would likely be cut in half without the use of wheat. How sad!
Variety is the spice of life. And for beer, that means adjuncts! With or without them, excellent beer will always exist. But with them, we’ve got a lot more options to drool over. There’s no need to shy away from the word anymore. Here’s to adjuncts!