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Another lesson from Garrett Oliver: rice in beer

Rice is not the first thing that comes to mind when you are drinking a nice, cold beer. And if you’re a beer connoisseur, even less so. For many years, it has been considered to be an affront to the institution of craft beer making to use rice. However, some beer makers are toying with the use of rice in beer again as homage to the practices that occurred before the Prohibition. This counterculture attitude reflects how beer brewers are looking to the past to evolve current drinkers’ palates. The following excerpt from the The Oxford Companion to Beer goes into detail on exactly how rice is used. Enjoy! — Nathalie

Anheuser-Busch is the largest single buyer of rice in the United States. Budweiser beer is brewed with rice making up a large portion of the grist.

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It is commonly held, at least among craft brewers, that the use of rice in beer is to be abhorred. To quote Maureen Ogle, from an article in the LA Times, “Rice is considered by many brewers to be what the nasty, industrialized brewers use to water down their beer” and “craft brewers treat rice almost as if it were rat poison.” The article goes on to state that rice lowers the body, flavor and color of beers made with elevated rice adjunct levels, which seems rather to reinforce the notion.

In fact, German brewers arrived in America to find that it was difficult to make good beer using the high-protein, six-row barleys available in the United States at the time. Looking for ways to dilute the malt, they began to use rice and corn. The end result bears little resemblance to good German or Czech lagers but their customers enjoyed this form of beer and millions of people still do. Although rice may once have been a cheap alternative to barley malt, it no longer is. Sharply rising prices have resulted in much higher material costs for brewers employing rice in their mashes.

Interestingly, despite the assertions by many American craft brewers and beer enthusiasts that rice is anathema, some craft brewers are experimenting with production of “pre-Prohibition” lagers that mimic the beers made in the United States in the late 1800s. These are relatively highly hopped but are very light bodied, the result of the use of up to 20% rice in the mash. Other craft brewers are experimenting with the use of specialized rice types that actually add interesting flavors to the beers.

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