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Missing the point

"industrial beers have adjuncts that shouldn't be used"
"'it's rubbish because it's brewed with adjuncts"
"it'd be good if it wasn't for the adjuncts"
"craft beers are good and natural because they don't have adjuncts"
"we are craft brewers, we don't use adjuncts"

Dear brewers (and craftophiles), I'd be very grateful if you, once and for all, cut it out with all that because it's nothing but a big pile of steaming, stinking bullshit (bullshit, that I must admit, I used to believe).

The funniest thing about this is that there is a huge number of great beers, the mention of which can give boners to many a beer geek, that are brewed with "adjuncts". But of course, if, say, DeMolen fancies using maize in their new (yet another) Imperial Stout brewed in (yet another) collaboration with an American craft brewer, they are doing it because of the profile the grain will give to the beer and not because they want to "cut down costs". But when an evil industrial brewer does something similar, it's only because they want to cheap down their beer, sacrificing quality. And yet, DeMolen must still be brewing that beer (at least a tiny bit) cheaper than if it was 100% malt.

Now imagine the craftophile shitstorm that would follow if a beer super-villain said that the reason they use maize or rice is not so much economical, but qualitative. We could accuse them of liars (and perhaps rightly so), but actually, they have history on their sides. It's well known that Anheuser-Busch started to use maize (which would be later replaced by rice) in their Budweiser almost from the beginning because the six row barley that grew in the US wasn't all that suitable for a Czech style lager. The adjuncts were the best solution to get the right profile (the one people wanted to drink). And go figure! Even Germans knew of the virtues of rice for brewing (I've also heard that rice is great for head retention).

So, what's the problem then? Aren't rice and maize actually more natural than malts? Isn't it natural for a company to find ways to reduce costs? And if costs are the issue, what is the difference between a brewer that decides to use some adjuncts and another that switches supplier for malts or ditches one hop variety for another one that is cheaper?

The thing is that crap beers aren't crap because they are brewed with or without this or that kind of ingredients, it's because of the processes. If I had to choose between Alahambra Reserva 1925, with its maize, and a Lidlbräu like Greffenwalder Pils, I'd gladly let the slugs in my garden enjoy the Reinheitsgebot approved swill while I slowly sip the adjunct ladden beauty.

But the best example of this is the review Logia Cervecera made of Quilmes 1890 the other day. I've got no way to prove this, but I'm almost certain that 1890 is Quilmes Cristal without HGB. The 5.4% ABV suggests a 14º Plato gravity, which I've heard is the density at which Cristal is brewed before watering it down. It should be added to this that 1890 is likely to be given more time to ferment and/or mature. The result, according to the review, is a pretty good beer (3 points out of 5). In other words, (probably) the same recipe, with the same adjuncts in the same proportions, but with a less cheap process that results in a significantly better beer.

In sum, the key difference here is that when they make a crap beer, macros know very well what they are doing, which is not something that can be said about not few micros.

So, dear brewers, leave that inferiority complex and the "sloganism" behind, act more like grownups and, if you dare, start talking more about the things that really make a difference.

Na Zdraví!

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  1. This kind of thinking is distressingly common in the beer world. What is an "adjunct" anyway? Belgian brewers use candi sugar to add alcohol to their brews without adding body, and have been doing it for decades if not centuries. English breweries add wheat and rice to low-ABV styles to aid in head retention. The R-bot has certainly kept Germany's beer industry honest about what goes into its beer, but it has also arguably hampered innovation.

    More generally, this is a manifestation of a well-known fallacy called "The Naturalistic Fallacy" i.e. the idea that what is natural is necessarily "better" regardless of other concerns. Among foodies, this often shows up as people saying things like, "Don't eat anything with ingredients you can't pronounce" i.e. chemical preservatives and the like.

    Now, I have no problem with people knowing what goes into their bodies and having a better connection to their food supply, but arsenic is one of the fundamental elements of the universe -- it's right there on the periodic table. And it'll kill you instantly, when consumed in quantities on the order of parts per million. "Natural" doesn't mean "good."

    And don't even get me started on "organic"....

    1. Well, any brewer who says their "beers are natural" is full of shit, to begin with (whether they say it knowingly or not, is besides the point). It still makes me laugh whenever I read that "craft beer" is natural because is brewed with 100% malt and it's unfiltered and unpasteurised.

      The "organic" label, I don't want to think too much about it, because I don't want to muse about what a rip-off it often is...

  2. Lukáš "Elf" Provazník2 July 2012 at 23:48

    You are right in general. But I think ingredients matters too. Making beers is whole complex of ingrediens, recipes and processes. Maybe you thought it in a different way, but you can not brew a good beer with poor ingrediens.

    1. Of course, but you can give me the best ingredients money can buy and it's very likely that I won't be able to make a good beer, but give some poor ingredients to a good brewer and they will probably be able to get something drinkable out of them. That's why I say that processes are more important than ingredients.

  3. As it is the pumpkin in pumpkin ale. It seems that there are some adjuncts that are "craft approved" and others that aren't, nobody knows why...

  4. Totally agree with your post.

    Using 100% "proper" ingredients your can make great beer, good beer, poor beer, or shite beer.

    Using less than 100% "proper" ingredients plus a portion of adjuncts your can make great beer, good beer, poor beer, or shite beer.

    It's all about the process, stupid.

    When I make my own beer I often use the evil flaked maize (lovely stuff) and/or the very bad invert sugar (ditto) if I am making something that needs them. A proper UK mild, perhaps. Or a 1910 style AK. Nice.

  5. A pub owner in Prague once told me he would never buy or sell beer made by a certain very small scale Czech brewery because the owner entrusted his daughter to take over operations while he was out and that had led to some really bad batches of beer. Obviously, someone hadn't been following the processes. . .

    I've actually had the pleasure of meeting the brewer and his daughter in question and they were kind enough to privately show me around thier tiny brewery on a day off. They seemed like great people. It was damn nice of them because it was totally unplanned. Drinking beer straight from the Master's tanks is always a great privilige for a beer lover.

    I'm happy to report I still see his beers on sale in Prague from time to time. I'm glad the young lady didn't kill his business!

    1. Hopefully, that brewer has learnt from his mistake... (would love to know which brewery that one is)

    2. As a small form of repayment for all the great pub tips you've given me over the years, I'll happily share the full story with you, but not here. I'll send it to your FB account as a PM.

      I would never want to embarrass someone who was so nice to me. Did I mention he even gave me a glass? :)



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