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What Is an Adjunct?

The term adjunct has come to imply inferiority, but adjuncts have long held an important role in brewing,

Dave Carpenter 3 years ago

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Certain words, though intrinsically innocuous, carry loaded connotations in certain contexts. Take adjunct. To be an adjunct professor is to enjoy an academic affiliation with a university without all of those pesky tenure-track responsibilities, full-time benefits, and living wages.

Similarly, within the language of brewing, the term adjunct has come to imply inferiority, as in “American adjunct lager” and “adjunct-laden macro-brew.” But, adjuncts have long held an important role in brewing, and some of today’s most sought-after beers (e.g., Pliny the Elder and Westvleteren 12) include adjuncts.

An adjunct is nothing more than a non-malt source of fermentable sugars. Thus, this broad term includes

  • Belgian candi syrups of all colors
  • Unmalted wheat, barley, rye, oats, maize, and other grains
  • Honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, and other sugars
  • Fruit, pumpkins, and other natural ingredients

Double IPAs regularly feature simple sugars to lighten body and promote attenuation, and strong Belgian ales of all kinds rely on candi sugars to add flavor and prevent cloying sweetness. And then there are lambics, which traditionally include a healthy dose of unmalted wheat, which supplies the complex sugars that equally complex blends of microbes slowly digest over time.

So why all of the negativity? I think it comes down to two things. First, the Reinheitsgebot limits sugar sources to barley malt, so there’s a historical association between malt and quality beer, even if it’s only in our heads. Second, industrial-scale breweries have long relied on corn and rice to produce light-bodied pale lagers. In craft beer’s infancy, all-malt wort became associated with handmade ales that offered full-bodied flavor in stark contrast to the most popular beers of the day.

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And then there were those kilo-and-a-can homebrew kits that instructed us to add a kilogram of refined sugar to a can of malt extract. Homebrewers who cut their teeth on these easy-to-brew preparations usually found themselves, shall we say, underwhelmed at the quality of the end product.

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But today’s enlightened brewers need not fear the adjunct. Here are a few ways to incorporate adjuncts into your own recipes.

  • Use simple sugars to lighten body and ensure adequate attenuation of your high-gravity styles.
  • Include flaked barley or rye to promote a robust head and a full body.
  • Toss in some flaked oats for a silky mouthfeel.
  • Formulate a Classic American Pilsner with up to 25 percent flaked maize in lieu of Pilsner malt.
  • Add cherries and raspberries to your sour ales, in the spirit of Belgium’s famous krieks and framboises.
  • Use a good dose of flaked rice in a moderately hopped pale lager or Kölsh-inspired ale, and convert those holdout in-laws of yours to the joys of craft beer.

Homebrewing is rewarding for many reasons, but paramount among them is the opportunity to create something uniquely yours that’s custom-tailored to your personal tastes and preferences. So don’t let anyone tell you that adjuncts imply inferiority. After all, if the monks of Sint-Sixtusabdij van Westvleteren can get away with it, you certainly can, too.

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