Maybe Wahl, Henius, Siebel Were Right About Adjuncts

Follow-up to my post earlier today on the virtually complete acceptance of grain adjuncts in American brewing in 1911. Concentrations used then ranged from 20-40% based on my reading with an average of 30%.

Jump ahead 105 years. Here is what Moosehead Brewery says about adjuncts in a commendably clear and full account on its website.

Some comments: the main reason for adjunct use, as I read this, is that it lightens the flavour and that’s what consumers want. But since you can lighten flavour through increasing attenuation of an all-malt beer, why not use just malt?

It’s not related to any higher cost of malt vs. corn syrup. The company is saying it pays the same for both. Nor is the syrup more fermentable since, as I read the explanation, the carbs profile in both (fermentable and non-) is similar: you can get syrups today with set concentrations of all the elements.

It’s because with syrups, you need a smaller plant to grind and mash barley malt. If you have to mash more, you need more capacity, which is more space, time, energy. More money, or rather less to the bottom line. Also, as explained in the account, adjunct use assists colloidal stability (inhibits the clouding I mentioned earlier), but I think the main reason is the former. Heineken, which is all-malt, doesn’t e.g., cloud today, brewers know how to ensure that today.

Speaking of Heineken, some whose memories go back long enough may remember when it made the switch from adjunct to all-malt. Many noted that the taste didn’t seem that different. I remember thinking the two were rather similar myself, but not identical. Small differences can matter to “connoisseurs”. The wider market? Not so much.

This logic makes perfect sense to me. But I don’t like a dry beer, I like a sweeter one. Most craft fans do, that’s the part of the market that’s growing. So why not use the syrups and drop the attenuation? (Increasing the hops will help too). In fact, this is the kind of beer that Henius, Wahl, Siebel knew. Attenuations were very low then, often 50-60% vs. at least 75% today. And they used much more hops c. 1900.

I once had a pre-Pro cream ale that used corn in New York, I think from Empire Brewing. It was excellent. Last night I combined DAB Dark (actually an alt or supposedly) with Coors Banquet, 2:1, to drop the adjunct and increase the hops. The dark malts helped too via Maillard. Excellent again.

So maybe the beer c. 1900 was really good and all those early scientists were right, provided not too much adjunct was used. And some people did worry about that. Siebel wrote an article in his Chemical News warning about making too much of a “good thing”. Interestingly, he didn’t knock the taste of the high-adjunct beer, he said it would encourage people to switch to wine.

That is, even with low attenuations, adjunct beer was drier or thinner than beer with less adjunct, probably because of the absence of dextrin* in the adjunct. But today you can fix that with the syrups that are available.

Lower-attenuated beer costs brewers more, since they get less yield. But as an answer to the mass market (flat), it may make sense to revert to c. 1900 brewing, it may be the sweet spot to address current consumer taste yet maximise efficiency. More sense, that is, than stress all-malt brewing through new products or craft brewery takeovers.

Any comments, maybe Ed?

*[Added August 30]. It’s probably not exact to say no dextrin, absence of dextrin, etc.  Different forms of adjunct can have different levels, some syrups are mostly glucose I understand and are almost completely fermentable as most brewing sugars are. What I mean is, typical North American adjuncts in my understanding have the effect of lowering overall protein content derived from malting barleys and lessen the impact of malt on flavour. They contribute some of their own flavour, corn more than rice, and the resultant profile is different (in my experience again) than an all-malt beer, generally lighter, drier.




5 thoughts on “Maybe Wahl, Henius, Siebel Were Right About Adjuncts”

  1. If you’re going from a cereal adjunct to an all malt brew it should be fairly easy to get similar attenuation. With sugars it would depend on the fermentability as some brewing sugars are 100% fermentable and you’ll never get that with malt.

    • Ed thanks but say you had 70% attenuation with all-malt, 5% abv, and a 5% abv beer from malt and 1/3rd rice adjunct. I realize attenuation might be different for the latter brew (lower I’d think), but do you think they would taste that different?


    • Or I guess you could use less malt in the adjunct recipe and get the same attenuation, but that might alter the taste too much? Anyway I think I see it’s a question of tweaking it to get as much of the same flavour profile from two recipes with the same abv. I’d guess Heineken did something like that when it made the change from adjunct to all malt.


  2. Yes, adjuncts were/are used to lighten flavour, as lower protein content and reduce the risk of haze. Some adjuncts certainly were/are used to reduce costs but as the costs of some adjuncts rose it became more attractive to go all malt.

    I suspect most syrups are used today for high gravity brewing: getting stonger beer out of the existing equipment and then watering it down post-fermentation to increase the volume of production.

    • Thanks Ed, makes sense. Do you agree though that a similar dryness can be obtained from all-malt by adjustments to attenuation and maybe hopping? Pre- and post-adjunct Heineken didn’t seem all that different…


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