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Jul 14, 2008 08:04 AM

What is the deal with beer made from rice?

I got into a very heated discussion with a passionate lover of Asahi Super Dry who nearly knocked me to the floor when I told him that it was made partially from rice. From there, I didn't really know where to take the argument.

So what is the deal with beer made from rice? What role does it play? Why use it? And for goddsakes, can someone confirm that Asahi Super Dry is made from more than merely trace amounts of rice?

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  1. Mainly it lightens the taste and color of the beer. For some odd reason most mainstream beer drinkers don't want their beer to taste all that beery.

    1. Yes it lightens the beer and, rice is much cheaper then barley.

      11 Replies
      1. re: chimay5

        I think that sometimes rice isn't cheaper than barley, but I haven't checked this thoroughly.

        1. re: Jim Dorsch

          I've heard plenty of arguments that is costs budweiser just as much for the rice than for the barley.

          1. re: Jim Dorsch

            Jim, Anheuser Busch is kind of in an odd, and admirable position as it contracts with rice farmers for a specific kind of rice and guarantees purchase of entire crops as long as it meets their quality standards. I grew up in the Delta and it was common, still is for that matter, to see signs at the ends of rice fields with AB on them. Also, carrying that a bit farther, if you ever go to Stuttgart, AR, you'll notice that the rice dryers are all painted to look like Budweiser cans. They also handle much of their hop and barley purchases in the same manner. Say what you want about dull American beer and such, but AB has an adherance to quality that is kind of hard to beat or argue with.

            1. re: Hadacol

              "Say what you want about dull American beer and such, but AB has an adherance to quality that is kind of hard to beat or argue with."

              without a doubt.

              I've visited AB's hop farm in ID and also their ID malting facility, and what you say is pretty much spot on.

              1. re: Jim Dorsch

                For a long time, the spec for Bud was best achieved by the brewery in Winnipeg, MB. Revealed at an A.S.B.C. meeting, I think. Neat stat.

              2. re: Hadacol

                If the end product sucks as much as Bud Light does, I don't think they care about quality much. If the quality of their product was so great then they wouldn't need to spend tens of millions of dollars on advertising.

                1. re: Kinopio

                  American tastebuds (pun intended) have been altered over the decades by the large brewing companies by a slow transition to rice based beers. A-B and their kind care very much about the quality of their product. It's just that their definition of quality is very different from that of someone with a more developed palate. To the big company execs, quality is all about making a consistent and predictable product, even if it is a product that tastes like fizz water with formaldehyde and a slight wisp of garbage can. A person would be foolish to believe that a large corporation got so big by using very expensive ingredients. Of course the rice solids are cheaper. Go to any homebrew supply house and learn to make your own beer. You will get the complete picture.

                  1. re: Martymc58

                    I agree totally that learning to make your own beer is the best answer. I started 41 years go, got _really_ serious about it 30 years ago, and at this point I buy _very_ little commercial beer (except for the odd single bottle here and there out of curiosity or to test my aging palate. LOL.). Much of the craft beer product these days _is_ really great stuff, but it is often overpriced and certainly overhyped (it is, after all, only beer).
                    The truth of the matter is you can do just as well (and more often than not, better) at home for a fraction of the cost...and it is not at all difficult. If it were, you wouldn't see the avalanche of new brewery startups we're seeing these days...most of them with homebrewers in the driver's set. LOL.

                    However, it sounds like you're buying into the craft industry's very effective PR machine, and I will respectfully disagree with the idea that the big brewers don't care about making _good_ beer. Rice, and especially corn have been the ingredients in some very highly respected beers (including classic ales from the UK, where con hs been used in beer for more than a century). Consistency is not a bad thing fact, it is a sign of _truly_ skillful brewing. And although the bigs are primarily focused on brewing what the largest majority of beer drinkers actually want, it can't be ignored that in recent years the big brewers _have_ managed to come out with some _very_ fine craft beers that go back to their century old roots (or even older)...and some of these brews rival the best of what the artisanal brewers are producing.
                    If a beer is good, it's good, regardless of who makes it.
                    Besides, in the end, what characterizes 'good' is entirely up to the individual tasting it.

                    1. re: The Professor

                      Great points re: adjunct usage in beer. It's really silly to see the marketing machine of the craft industry decry adjuncts when Belgian beers have been made with them for a really long time. I've had some very interesting beers made with corn and rice, where the brewer specifically chose those grains for attributes beyond a flavorless alcohol boost.

                    2. re: Martymc58

                      >Of course the rice solids are cheaper. Go to any homebrew supply house and learn to make your own beer. You will get the complete picture.


                      Rice solid - $5.50/lb
                      Malt extract - $4.25/lb

                      1. re: LStaff

                        I guess it all depends on where you shop. My local supply house has dry malt extract for $3.75 and rice solid for $3.50 A little online shopping shows a wide diversity in prices. I found prices as much as double these, and for identical products.

            2. Rice provides fermentable sugars without adding flavor.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Josh

                What percentages, roughly, are we talking about with rice vs. barley? I'm assuming rice plays a significant part as Beer Advocate has designated Asahi and the like as "Japanese Rice Lagers".?.?...I'll give anyone bonus points if they can provide a snarky yet informative response that I can cut and paste in an email to this guy....

                1. re: Silverjay

                  I think you could find as much as 40% rice/corn in a cheaper beer. Corn is more widely used, so perhaps there is no beer with that much rice content.

                  1. re: Silverjay

                    Not sure what the percentages would be. You could make a beer from 100% rice if you wanted to. It would be very bland, though. Corn and rice are used in beer precisely because of their lack of flavor. Beer Advocate's usage of the term "Japanese Rice Lager" doesn't make it a real style of beer. A better guide to use is the BJCP guidelines, which has a category called "Light Lager". This is where you find beers like Asahi and Sapporo.

                    I found a Kirin clone recipe here:

                    "1/2 lb carapils

                    4 lbs pale or extra light malt extract
                    2 lbs rice syrup solids"

                    So looks like the rice is 1/3 of the grain bill, roughly.

                2. Maureen Ogle's book "Ambitious Brew" gives a pretty complete history of the evolution of the use of rice and corn as adjuncts in American beer (by, one should remember, German brewers in the mid-1800's). The short answer is that the 6-row barley that was commonly grown in North America was too "protein rich" to brew a "light" lager beer in then-new "Bohemian" style. Her well-documented explanation is certainly contrary to the old homebrewer/beer geek "adjunct are used because they're cheaper" answer. Clearly, tho', the fact that the brewers were looking for "lighter" beers at the time (based in large part on consumer demand) *was* a factor.

                  I always like to quote George Ehret (owner of the largest brewery in the US) circa 1891:

                  "The data (on US barley usage) here will be better
                  understood, if it be borne in mind that all light beers
                  of that peculiarly vinous taste, which has late
                  become somewhat popular, are made of malt and
                  rice or corn, as in the case of the excellent Pilsen brands.
                  The prevailing taste, however, still calls for a brewage
                  of a deep reddish-brown color, peculiar to heavily-malted beers,
                  such as emanate from Hell Gate Brewery."

                  Ehret's brewery was soon to be overtaken by the brewers of those "Pilsen" brands brewed by the likes of Pabst, Anheuser-Busch and Schlitz.

                  As agricultural products, rice, corn and barley prices have varied over the years, with brewers rice often costing more than barley (and recent rises in corn prices are putting it close to barley, as well). In addition, "cereal cookers" add an extra step and extra equipment to the brewing process.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: JessKidden

                    <<Her well-documented explanation is certainly contrary to the old homebrewer/beer geek "adjunct are used because they're cheaper" answer.>>

                    Geez, but that's really OldSchool, ya know? ;) Pre-pros and the story behind them became pretty popular among the beer geek crowd about in the early to mid 90's. George Fix was particularly enamored with the style, and helped foster interest in its history. But the thrust of all of that bears repeating over and over again- mass produced beers may cost $5 to $10 less per case when you buy them, but that's mostly due to the benefits of large scale production (i.e- way fewer man-hours per barrel to produce, distribute, etc. The 'recipe' itself may indeed be cheaper in terms of hops and gravity- adjuncts are probably a wash when considered against the added hard costs, though possibly even more costly- but those savings are incidental compared to overall cost to get it to the consumer).

                    Anyway- yeah, these beers do contain rice. The website (in Japanese) was less than helpful to me, but the amount is in no doubt significant, and the reason is that it is most certainly a 'stylistic' choice. What some (myself included) would call 'flavorless', others (admirers of the beer in question) would probably call 'refined'.

                    So Silverjay, why did you guys nearly come to blows, anyway? Rice may or may not be an inferior ingredient, depending on one's point of view as well as how and why it is used. At the end of the day it's the end product that I think we should all be 'arguing' over, not what goes into it. Those sorts of litmus tests never seem to be worth one's efforts.

                    1. re: TongoRad

                      "Geez, but that's really OldSchool, ya know?"

                      Yeah, but it's an "Oldie but a Goodie" that sure has staying power and folks still like to spout that sort of thing- I guess the "conspiracy theory" of adjunct use is particularly appealing to the beer "newbies" (hey, you're over on BA, so you see it, too). "Adjuncts are a result of Prohibition [or] WWII" or "Only the big brewers survived Prohibiton" (all 600+ of em?), etc.

                      What I wanna know is, where's all the "bock beer"? Don't these brewers clean out their tanks anymore <g>.

                      1. re: JessKidden

                        Just yankin' your chain a bit- I guess I'm pretty Old School myself. But, yeah, it's amazing how this stuff keeps on getting recycled. Why won't it just die already?! :)

                        Keep up the good work, man. I love reading your posts.

                      2. re: TongoRad

                        I didn't pass judgement on his choice of beer. I was merely telling (educating?) him in conversation that ASD was made from rice and he just flat out didn't believe me. We've since had an email exchange and he blessed me with a mea culpa now understanding that yes, he was wrong. BTW, Asahi Super Dry is the still the number one beer in Japan.

                        1. re: Silverjay

                          All's well that ends well. That's good to hear.

                    2. I cannot claim to know all the facts. But maybe I can elaborate. It is known that the Germans colonized the Chinese port town of Tsing Tao. The Germans took the brewing trade with them, and the Chinese adapted well to it. The beer now known as Tsing Tao is one of the world's best brews available on the commercial market. It is also made with rice. It could be that the Chinese were the first ones to use rice for the fermentable sugars, and that it caught on in Europe, thus ending in America with the famous Budweiser beer. Rice is cheaper than wheat, at least it was. And it can be used in place of barley, or corn. Some brewers use corn for the fermentable sugars. I have used it a lot before, and it does make a drinkable beer. Some refer to this as a "malt liquor". Like I said, I am no expert, as I have not done all the research on this seeing as I only happened on this question tonight, but I think my answer is as good as any out there.

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: EX500rider

                        One of the world's best? Really? You sure about that?

                        1. re: Josh

                          Yes. By that I mean of beers available on the commercial market that are not craft brewed or hand made. I merely mean beer that is made in mass from a large brewery on a world export scale. Of course there are many other beers that are home made, or craft brewed that beat it hands down, but it is one fine beer.

                        2. re: EX500rider

                          This seems contrary to most brewing history chronology. Early work with rice as adjunct was done primarily in America in the 1860's and 1870's in order to try to duplicate pilsner style beer in the USA using US's 6 row barley.

                          China's breweries were started by the Germans in the late 1890's. Some sources give 1897 for Tsingtao in particular, as the first- the brewery's own website says "1903".

                          1. re: pballantine

                            Thanks for clearing THAT up. I was not sure, as I had not been so diligent to do the research. I usually like to research these things, but sometimes it is easier to let someone else do the footwork.

                          2. re: EX500rider

                            Partially right, partially wrong.

                            Malted barley is needed in beer. I provides a lot of components, including enzymes to work on what's called adjunct. Adjuncts are those that bring carbohydrates to the mash, that do not add any diastatic power (convert starches and complex carbohydrates to simple assimilable carbohydrates). Usual amounts can be up to about 30% for a properly moving mash, so that yeast isn't starved as well during fermentation. Wheat can be used as an adjunct, for a handful of reasons, and rice is usually used for a crisper mouthfeel, without adding any flavour. It's also cheaper. Canadians use corn, Americans use rice. Asians manipulate their beers and try to maximize rice usage, but they need to make up for the lack of DP in their mashes.

                            1. re: BeeRich

                              AB uses rice in Budweiser, but I believe they use corn in other beers (e.g., Busch), and that MBCo uses corn. Not sure about Coors.

                              1. re: Jim Dorsch

                                Coors *used* to use rice, at least.

                                "For rice we use a short-grained variety grown in the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valley of California. We find this rice to be superior to all other varieties for brewing purposes, and, of course, we pay a considerable premium for it." W. K. Coors, President (circa 1976- from The Tasters Guide to Beer)

                                Recipes for both Killians and Coors "Banquet" have also listed "starch" as an ingredient. (Not sure if that means *corn* starch, but that'd be the most likely, wouldn't it?).

                                It does seem to me that some current Coors material discussed the use of corn but I can't find it on the 'net now and their current website is very vague about adjuncts.

                                A number of other US brewers used to use rice as a adjunct, often (due in part, probably, to A-B touting it as "more expensive") in their "super-premium" beers. Off hand, Heileman Special Export, Hamm's Preferred Stock and Matt's Premium were "rice-adjunct" beers. Rolling Rock used to be rather proud of using both rice *and* corn (still does as an A-B product).

                                Other than those, tho', I think one could safely say that corn in one form or another (grits, flakes, syrup, sugar) is/was the more common adjunct in US "light lager" macro-style beers.