Rice & Easy: Extract Brewing for Maximum Crispness

You don’t need an industrial Japanese brewery—nor even an all-grain homebrew system—to make a clean, light-bodied, refreshing rice lager ideal for sushi and summertime.

Annie Johnson Aug 8, 2022 - 9 min read

Rice & Easy: Extract Brewing for Maximum Crispness Primary Image

Photo: Matt Graves

Summer approaches, the best time for drinking thirst-quenching lagers—cold, crisp, and slightly prickly on the palate. My mouth waters just thinking about how much I enjoy a refreshing lager on a warm day—and in the past few years for me, quite often, that has meant rice lager.

For me, these beers also have a strong association with food. We often see rice-based lagers on the menus of our favorite local sushi joints; you’re probably familiar with some of the big-name Japanese brands such as Asahi, Kirin, and Sapporo, all known for their clean, super-crisp profile and characteristically dry finish. Light in body with a relatively neutral character, these beers complement a variety of flavorful foods without weighing you down with heavy alcohol or resinous hops. They’re wonderful with spicy dishes and barbecue, for example, and they work as effortless palate-cleansers for just about any type of fatty or fried food—just the thing to serve at your summer cookouts.

Obviously, using rice as a beer ingredient isn’t limited to those big Japanese brands. Budweiser is famous for including it (though it lacks the dryness of an Asahi-type beer), and plenty of American craft brewers have released their own interpretations. Notably, it’s become a key ingredient in “cold IPAs,” which are fermented at relatively warm temperatures by lager yeast but get an extra-crisp structure from the use of rice as an adjunct.

Brewing with Rice

Rice has the biggest starch content of all cereal adjuncts. Once converted, its yield can be as high as 90 percent—however, to access that great fermentability, we first need to break down those starches and convert them for brewing.


One way to get there is to cook up a cereal mash on your stovetop:

  • Mix your rice with a bit of malt to roughly a five-to-one ratio, by weight; add water and stir.
  • Heat the mixture to 154–171°F (68–77°C), stir slowly, and rest 20 minutes for gelatinization.
  • Slowly bring the mixture to a boil, and boil for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching.

At this point the rice has become a fully gelatinized goo, which can be filtered and rinsed with brewing water straight into the brew pot. If you want to avoid having to filter out the malt, you can skip the base malt and add an amylase enzyme powder instead; one teaspoon for a five-gallon (19-liter) batch does the trick.

Of course, there are easier options. You can use instant rice or flaked rice, both of which are pre-gelatinized; or either brown rice–syrup solids or clarified brown-rice syrup. Flaked and instant rice need a mini mash, best done with a bit of base malt for conversion. Treat it just as you would a specialty grain for steeping, but don’t forget to use a relatively large grain bag—rice flakes and instant rice absorb quite a bit of water. Steep it for at least 45 minutes.

However, the syrup or solids can go straight into the brew pot, just like extract—no mashing needed. Once converted, rice adds fermentability—increasing the ABV while keeping the beer light and dry—but very little in the way of flavor. So, there isn’t necessarily a strong argument for doing it the hard way.


Personally, I like the brown-rice syrup. Don’t worry about the word “brown” here, if you’re going for a very pale lager; these products are filtered and light gold in color, typically around 2 SRM. They can produce a truly clear and bright beer. As a bonus, brown-rice syrup provides proteins and amino acids that help yeast metabolism, besides adding a very subtle flavor. With a consistency like corn syrup, it typically comes packaged in either a can or pouch. The brown rice–syrup solids, meanwhile, are in a crystalized powder form like dry malt extract (DME). Just add them to your brewing water in batches, the same as you would with DME.

Planning the Rest of the Recipe

Once you’ve chosen your form of rice, the next question is how much. Typically, the Japanese rice lagers use as much as 30 to 40 percent rice in the mash. The remainder of the grist should be pilsner malt extract—the freshest and palest you can get—in either dried or liquid form.

Hops for Japanese lagers tend to be Noble Saazer types, though the Japanese-origin Sorachi Ace is an intriguing option here. I have yet to hear any two people describe this hop’s aroma in the same way. People often describe it as lemony, but for me, it imparts a dill-like character with hints of mint and pepper. When used for bittering—Sorachi has a relatively high alpha-acid content—the flavors are subdued anyway, so I never worry that the beer might taste like dill pickle. With one or two additions of the hop, I tend to get a pronounced herbal quality instead. Other hops that work well here are Saaz, Hallertauer, Mt. Hood, Styrian Goldings, Tettnanger, or other Noble and Noble-esque varieties. There is no need to dry hop, and steer clear of New World hops with big fruity, tropical, or piney notes; these can overwhelm the delicate character of a rice lager. In other words, choose wisely, and restraint is a virtue here.

The yeast choice is straightforward. It’s hard to beat dried yeast for its ease-of-use, high cell count, and reliable performance. Among dried lager strains, an easy pick would be Fermentis SafLager W-34/70, which can also tolerate warmer temperatures, even up to 65°F (18°C)—a great option if you don’t have temperature control. (You can even ferment it warm in a corny keg. However, the main thing is to choose yeast that will produce a clean, neutral profile, with relatively high attenuation. Avoid strains that produce a lot of fruit esters or sulfur.


Rice It Up with Other Styles

I remember that at some point in my brewing history, I used rice syrup in a light lager, which I eventually entered in a national competition and ended up winning best of show. [Editor’s note: Annie is being somewhat coy here. In 2013, her Mow the Damn Lawn light lager won NHC gold and made her Homebrewer of the Year.]

Obviously, a rice lager isn’t the only style that can benefit from a light, crisp body. It’s well worth trying out rice additions in other kinds of beer. I’ve used them in cream ale, pale ale, IPA, and even some British styles.

We can also think beyond the plainer varieties of rice. There are many kinds of rice in the world, and some can contribute delicious flavors and aromas. I recently enjoyed a jasmine rice lager that was wonderfully floral. We could debate wild rice—is it a grain, or is it rice?—but regardless, it can add a delicate nuttiness to a Maibock, for example. The rise of craft malting and gluten-free brewing also has brought about new varieties of malted rice—including some that are toasted, roasted, or smoked, contributing color as well as unique flavor.

Get creative—brewing at home should be fun. And as easy as these beers are to brew, they’re even easier to drink. You know what else is easy? Ordering sushi.

Annie Johnson is an experienced R&D brewer, IT specialist, and national beer judge. Her awards include 2013 American Homebrewer of the Year honors.