Oats, Wheat & Rye: What Adjunct Grains Add to Your Beer

Oats, Wheat & Rye: What Adjunct Grains Add to Your Beer

aMost craft beer drinkers would agree that we love complexity in our beers. The intense flavors, subtle nuances and depth of character provide nearly endless enjoyment and a symposium for opinions, preferences and loyalties.

So let us take a look at some of the emerging grains that have been playing a bigger role in our beers as brewers look to diversify and differentiate themselves in the ever-expanding world of craft beer.

The Addition of the Adjunct Grains

Most of us associate the word ‘adjunct’ with the beers from big brewers, but don’t be alarmed. ‘Adjunct’ means “an addendum” or “a complement to,” and that’s what the “specialty grains” in craft beer do. These grains are used as a complement to barley, to enhance an experience, broaden a flavor or swell mouthfeel. The grains I am referring to are oatmeal, rye and wheat.

Whether you enjoy the big mouthfeel of an oatmeal stout, the crisp edge of a “rye-P.A.,” or the refreshing, light drinkability of a wheat beer, much of the depth and personality of your beer is due to adjuncts. Surprisingly, these grains have been utilized in beers for hundreds of years, and are now re-emerging in new ways.

Rye

While some European beer styles have included rye for centuries, it has been most commonly associated with whiskey here in the United States. As of late, however, it has breached its confines and introduced itself to the American craft beer world.

Rye is often used as an addition to barley, creating hybrids from classic styles. Rye adds a crisp, slightly spicy and sometimes dry aspect to the beer. A rye-P.A., for example, tends to have a sharp edge and a crisp, distinctive flavor, usually in the finish.

Commercial Examples

German-Style Roggenbier

The German-style Roggenbier originated centuries ago in what is now Germany. The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) classifies a Roggenbier as “a specialty beer originally brewed in Regensburg, Bavaria as a more distinctive variant of a dunkelweizen using malted rye instead of malted wheat.”

To be considered a Roggenbier according to the World Beer Cup®, the grain bill must consist of at least 30 percent rye, and in some instances up to 65 percent, which is impressive as rye is historically difficult to work with as a primary grain. These beers typically have a medium-heavy mouthfeel, sharp rye flavor and are often infused with weizen yeast taste and aroma.

Commercial Examples

Oatmeal

Oatmeal has early roots in brewing as well; oatmeal beers were brewed for a short time in the 1500s, but quickly died out due to the overpowering bitter taste of primarily using oatmeal in the grain bill. Oatmeal made a comeback when Scottish brewer James Maclay produced an “oatmalt” stout in 1895. In the early 1900s, oatmeal was used as an adjunct, but in very low quantities and sometimes less than 1 percent of the grain bill.

Today, this cereal grain is becoming almost paramount in English-style oatmeal stouts enjoyed by craft beer fans. Oats add smooth, rich, enjoyable textures to a stout. This is due to the starches, proteins and gums in the oats that have a tendency to thicken up the mouthfeel of the beer.

Commercial Examples

Wheat

If you’re a craft beer drinker, there’s no doubt you’ve tasted this light and refreshing adjunct (remember, that’s not necessarily a bad word!) The use of wheat in beer shares a heritage nearly as old as barley.

Touting popular varieties such as dunkelweizen, hefeweizen, weizenbock, witbier and lambic, wheat beer is as versatile and enjoys as much world-wide popularity as you can get.

You’ll find German beers which utilize malted and unmalted wheat, or a mixture of wheat and barley. Often the flavors from German wheat beers are driven by the yeast and esters.

If you’re looking for a maltier taste in your wheat beer, an American-style hefeweizen is a good place to start. You’ll find that these tend to have a maltier profile, with yeast contributing less of the flavor.

Unmalted wheat can be found in Belgian witbier. The taste is slightly sharper than its malted counterparts and the beer will likely be more hazy.

With additional styles like La bière blanche, Kristallweizen, Berliner weisse, gose and a host of other varieties—plus American interpretations of those international styles—there is certainly no shortage of choices for you.

Commercial Examples

The world of adjuncts has contributed to a host of variety in our beers today. Whether you’re drinking a crisp, bitter rye-P.A., cooling off on a summer day with one of the many wheat styles or enjoying that big mouthfeel of an oatmeal stout, keep in mind what these often overlooked grains contribute.

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