Mark Jilg at Craftsman Brewing Co. produces a highly successful pre-Prohibition-style 1903 Lager, which includes two-row barley and just under 20 percent flaked corn—as well as hefty additions of Mt. Hood hops. Coupling a charismatic, grassy hop character and toasty maltiness with the crisp sessionability of a pale lager, the beer’s grown to 40 percent of Craftsman’s production. Richard at Bear Republic, whose heritage is part Nicaraguan, uses 3 percent corn in their brewpub’s El Oso beers to replicate the body and flavor traits of traditional Mexican-style lagers. Why not all-malt? “It would just be too sweet,” Peter Kruger replied. “There’s a drinkability there. And the use of corn in some of those beers really adds to that drinkability. Michael Jackson called it ‘moreness.’ You want another one.” At 4.5 percent, their El Oso Lager shows toasty cereal notes, some light caramel, and a balancing mineral hop character. And it’s a pleasure to drink.
Very few people are really talking about the palate experience,” added Mark Jilg. “Very few people are talking about the actual activity that is the enjoyment of beer. […] Talk to people who really aren’t very geeky about beer, and they’ll tell you about the sensations, the actual physicality of enjoying beer.” Even small adjustments to texture and mouthfeel can have a significant effect on a beer’s drinkability.
Trevor Schaben, Brewmaster of Thunderhead Brewing Co. in Nebraska, takes corn additions one step further. He has a local homebrewer and home maltster, Ken Anderson, malt organically produced yellow corn, which he uses at about 6 percent in his Cornstalker Dark Wheat. He uses it as a local, indigenous ingredient for his beers, and the malting process appears to both improve the fermentation qualities of the corn (depending upon how much it’s kilned) and reduce its staling tendencies. Sweet corn is highly appealing for its aromatic and flavor profile, though he’s found it difficult to get a steady, properly-dried supply. And while corn is generally pegged as a cost-cutting addition in beer, most small breweries don’t actually see the same price advantage the macros do. Schaben pays $0.78/pound for British two-row malt, and $1.00/pound for malted yellow corn. Malted sweet corn, when he can get it, is twice that price.
In a beer like Cornstalker, which also has 8 percent chocolate malt and a hefty amount of wheat, the net effect is a much more drinkable, drier final product that comes across as more of a German-style dunkel than a dunkelweizen. Nutty, lightly roasted, with a vibrant wheatiness, the corn addition helps limit the wheat’s impact on the beer’s body. “You add the corn […] to get the beer the way you want to get it.” For Schaben, it’s a local, organic product, and craft brewers in general will do well to follow his example in this regard (Fullsteam Brewery in North Carolina, similarly, uses local fermentables in their ‘Plow to Pint’ series).
Whether or not malted corn is technically still an adjunct is left as an exercise for the curious reader.
Sugar, But Not Sweet
Remember sugar? Old, reliable sugar? … Well, even the state of sugar is changing.
Dark Candi, Inc. was mentioned by a number of commercial brewers for helping change the landscape of Belgian-style brewing in this country. Randy Mosher and Stan Hieronymus have both written extensively elsewhere about the differences between authentic Belgian candi sugars/syrups and the much different (and less concentrated) rock candy varieties available in American homebrew shops. “The rocks are kind of useless, because it’s just sugar,” Randy noted. “Even the dark ones don’t really have much color.”
Dark Candi became the first importer of authentic Belgian caramelized sugars back in 2006, and remains the only importer of these products in the U.S. Originally a hand-labeled and hand-packaged enterprise, they partnered with a commercial packager two years ago and significantly expanded their distribution here. Whereas many U.S. brewers tried to replicate the flavor profiles of Belgian beers by using specialty grains or rock candy, these super concentrated and heavily caramelized sugars and syrups are crucial for getting both the depth of flavors and the characteristic dryness (as the sugars are highly fermentable).