Vail Ale at Altitude column: All about adjuncts in beer
If you go …
What: Small Plates and Craft Beer Pairing.
When: 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 20.
Where: Atwater on Gore Creek, Vail Cascade Resort & Spa, 1300 Westhaven Drive, Vail.
Cost: $35 per person, plus tax and gratuity.
What: Meet the Brewmaster, with Sam Scruby, brewmaster for Upslope Brewing Co.
When: 4-7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 21.
Where: Fireside Bar, Vail Cascade Resort & Spa, Vail.
Cost: Free samples of Upslope beers.
More information: Visit www.vailcascade.com, or call 970-479-7014.
Barley, hops, water and yeast — that’s what makes a beer, right? Well what about a Belgian witbier with orange peel? How about a dry Japanese rice lager? The all-American (err, maybe partly Belgian now) Budweiser? A barrel-aged imperial oatmeal stout with vanilla, chilies and saffron? Specifically, all of these beers are tied together by their use of adjuncts, broadly defined as any non-barley-based source of sugar, coloring or characteristic addition (i.e., oats for foam stability or spices). Simply put, an adjunct is any ingredient in beer that isn’t malt, hops, water and yeast.
Traditionally, adjuncts are used to cut costs in beer and have been used in this way for a surprisingly long time. British brewers in the 1800s often used sugar or molasses to strengthen their beer at a lower cost than using malt. Some even went so far as to include peppers to mimic the warming sensation of alcohol or even added narcotics to heighten intoxication of the patrons.
The use of adjuncts to cut costs in brewing accelerated with the continued industrialization of the brewing industry after prohibition. Large macro breweries continued to incorporate cheaper fermentables such as corn and rice syrup into their products to lighten the beer’s body while retaining alcohol. In a race to decrease costs in a competitive market, one could argue the flavor of mass-market beer suffered as a result.
In some countries, these types of practices often led to government intervention, with the most famous example being the German Reinheitsgebot or German Beer Purity Law. Considered to be a very early example food safety, it required that beers could only be brewed with barley, hops, water and, eventually, yeast. This law provided a framework that shaped German beer for hundreds of years and continues to today.
In the United States, we never adopted such legislation, but in true free-market fashion, a small group of innovative craft brewers chose to reject the lowest common denominator to create beers focused on flavor. Often deriding adjunct lagers or any ingredient outside Reinheitsgebot, these brewers used pure, traditional ingredients in fascinating and innovative ways to shape what we now know as craft beer.
More recently, the craft brewing community has seen a surge of nontraditional ingredients making their way into the brewery. Catering to adventurous palates, nontraditional ingredients are popping up in every style imaginable, from pale ales to imperial porters. For most craft brewers, adjuncts are now used to enhance or balance the flavor of a beer, rather than cutting down on ingredient costs. So while I may be adding turbinado sugar to Upslope Belgian Pale Ale or a heap of spices into Thai IPA, I have a wildly different goal than some of the bigger guys. After all, life is too short for cheaply made beer.
Sam Scruby is the head brewer at Upslope Brewing Co. He grew up in Glenwood Springs and graduated from the University of Colorado in 2010. He has been brewing, packaging, delivering and living the dream at Upslope Brewing Co. since 2010.
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