Home Enthusiast Craft beer decides auxiliary lagers are cool, actually

Craft beer decides auxiliary lagers are cool, actually


In 2009, a video titled “I’m a Craft Brewer” was released in which a plethora of well-known brewers decried the encroachment of big breweries into smaller territories, sang the praises of quality products and bold flavors and, at one time mocked the use of complementary ingredients like corn and rice in macro-brewed beers like Budweiser.

Craft brewers like Sean Lilly Wilson of Fullsteam, Adam Avery of Avery Brewing, Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River and others all recited the same lines in the four-minute supercut. The tone is dark, with a few furrowed eyebrows.

“Just over 100 years ago, there were 3,000 breweries in the United States,” the brewers explain. “Around the same time, mega-corporations decided to put corn in their beer. They decided to put rice in their beer. I don’t put corn in my beer. I don’t put rice in my beer. Everything I put in my beer, I choose to put because it enhances the flavor. I’m not afraid to make my beer more interesting, rather than less.

Almost 13 years have passed since the release of the video. Does the message stick?

“I thought about this video and these comments,” says Shaun O’Sullivan, co-founder of 21st Amendment Brewery. He was also featured in the video. “We were all so precious back then.”

In 2015, the 21st Amendment released El Sully, a Mexican lager brewed with flaked corn. It remains one of the brewery’s most popular offerings.

“We realize these ingredients are quite nice and pair well with beer styles,” says O’Sullivan. “Brewers may disagree with the business and marketing practices of great beer, which is where the statement ‘I don’t put rice or corn’ has been pointed out, but ultimately the ingredients are the ingredients.”

In the late 1990s and early 1990s, as the craft beer segment emerged and took hold in America, corn and rice were looked down upon by small brewers who favored more “traditional” grains like beer. two-row barley in their lagers and ales. This was laughable to some brewers, who pointed out that early American brewers used both corn and rice in their beers because grains like these were readily available.

Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, major brands like Coors and Bud Light have made no secret of their use of so-called supplements like corn and rice. Based on popularity and sales, general beer drinkers never seemed to care about these ingredients in their frosty pints.

El Sully of the 21st Amendment Brewer
Image courtesy of 21st Amendment

In 2013, in response to criticism, Chris Lohring of Notch Brewing in Massachusetts released a corn lager called The Mule. “I wanted to show that corn as an ingredient isn’t bland, it’s a recipe or a purpose that makes it bland,” he said. “The corn or rice isn’t the culprit, it’s the structure of the beer.”

He expected customers to be pushed away when the beer came out, he says, but was only met with enthusiastic drinkers.

There’s a bigger shift now, as small producers are creating rice lagers or corn beers that not only bring sweetness and lightness to the beers, but also familiar flavors, expanding a customer base. This is partly due to the increase in the number of small maltsters growing not only barley, but also other specialty corns. Much of this goes to distilleries, but some ends up in brewing kettles.

When Maui Brewing Company launched a Japanese rice lager, head brewer James Newman said, “Don’t work too hard and drink light.

“We were all so precious back then.” —Shaun O’Sullivan, 21st Amendment Brewery

It’s hard to imagine those words being spoken even five years ago. But as craft beer evolves, seeks to attract new customers, and becomes more comfortable with the technical skills required to make crisp, clean beers, ancillary lagers are becoming the new darlings of the craft beer bar.

Small breweries like KCBC in New York, Bow & Arrow in New Mexico, Ecliptic in Oregon, and countless others have released corn or rice lagers, often with great success.

“Our Denim Tux pilsner uses blue corn and for us, that brings us back to tradition and connects us to our mission to use local ingredients,” says Shayla Shepard, founder of Bow & Arrow Brewing. She notes that the brewery uses a local mill to grind the corn to meet brewing specifications and pays a premium for the ingredient. “It means a lot to us, buying local businesses and supporting jobs, and being an economic resource for people.”

Notch Brewing Corn Lager
Image courtesy of Rob Hughes

In small taverns across the country, styles like light American lager and cream beers are becoming easier to find, and there has been a noticeable increase in Japanese lagers. This style, already popular with Japanese brewers like Sapporo and Asahi, is crisp, refreshing and dry thanks to the large amounts of rice used in the cereal bill. Some American brewers add specialty ingredients – supplements, if you will – to their recipes, such as herbs or spices. Others generously skip a few batches.

Sapporo, it should be noted, recently acquired Stone Brewing, the company responsible for financing the video “I am a craft brewer”.

“We’ve had a lot of interest in brewing a lager with rice,” says John Harris of Ecliptic Brewing, whose line includes a jasmine beer.

Lohring notes that using corn and rice is much more difficult than grains like barley, with the potential for blocked equipment and longer than normal brew days. Using these ingredients is not for the faint of heart, he says.

Still, it seems more and more small brewers are willing to give it a try.

“I feel like we’ve all grown up in a certain way and as lagers become popular, we as brewers use ingredients to create those styles and create new ones such as Cold IPA which, in some ways, is an American lager version of an IPA,” says O’Sullivan. “We’ve taken a page from the big beer and beat them at their own game. At GABF [Great American Beer Festival], in the major lager categories, you see more and more craft brewers winning medals that were once dominated by the larger breweries. We adopted it.