We mentioned that beer can be made with "other stuff" besides the 4 main ingredients (water, malt, hops, yeast). Often times this is the case, and you'll find the following stuff in your favorite brews:
When brewers aren't using just malted barley in their mash (usually because a certain beer style necessitates it), they'll often supplement the grain portion of the beer with other grains. These other grains usually don't make up the majority of the grain bill (it's usually still barley, or at least half barley), but sometimes they can. We'll outline the exceptions as we go along.
Beer styles using Wheat:
- Weissbiers (German)
- Witbiers (Belgium/Neth)
- Gose (German)
- Lambic/Geueze (German)
- American Wheat
- Various others
Beer styles using Rye:
- American Rye Pale Ales
- Various others
Beer styles using Oats:
- Oatmeal Stouts
- Certain Belgian beers
- Various others
Beer styles using Rice:
- Japanese Lagers
- Various others
Certain brewers also use corn as an ingredient. Corn contributes very little flavor to a beer, so it's customarily used for its high sugar content. Most craft breweries do not use corn in any part of their beer, but it's been known to happen.
You'll note that we put "various others" under each of these categories. This is because, just like beer styles themselves, there are no hard and fast rules that say when you can use these ingredients. Traditional beer styles will often dictate whether they're used or not, but as newer styles emerge, we see their use in inventive and often delicious new ways.
We mentioned to you on our malt page that grain undergoes the malting process so that we can easily extract those vital fermentable sugars from the grain. While unmalted (raw) versions of these grains don't usually allow us to do this, sometimes brewers use them for other purposes. In specific beer styles, like a rye pale ale, a brewer might use a small portion of unmalted rye in the grain bill. This gives the mash a very unique flavor, and contributes to the spicy, bitter notes of the beer itself. Raw grains are used varying proportions and numerous styles of beer to contribute body, flavor, and aroma to the finished product.
Fruit and beer is an interesting topic. Traditionally, brewers have avoided adding fruits and adjuncts to their beers because they want the simple ingredients of the beer to speak for themselves. While this is an admirable, and valid, way of approaching craft beer, fruit has become a ubiquitous ingredient in many traditionally fruit-free styles in the past 15-20 years. The following fruits are typically included in brewing:
Additional fruit flavors could include apple, raspberry/blueberry (other berries), banana, etc. You'll find all sorts of interesting styles of beer brewed with fruits if you keep trying new things!
Remember! When we discussed yeast, we talked about fruity esters. It pays to mention again...fruits and esters are different. When you taste banana, clove, and cherry in your beer, odds are it wasn't actually brewed with these ingredients. The flavor comes from the chemicals created in the fermentation process from the yeast. If you taste fruit flavors in your beer, check to see if it was actually brewed with fruit first.
A "Framboise" is a fun style of beer brewed with fruit. The word "framboise" is the french word for raspberry, and thus the beer style "Framboise" is fermented with raspberries. It's usually quite sweet and can taste like your drinking a concentrated raspberry. The framboise style stems from the traditional Belgian Lambic style of beer, and is usually qualified as a "raspberry lambic" in most circumstances.
97% of the time (we made that up), vegetables and herbs are not usually used in beer production (we didn't make that up), but sometimes you'll find a style of beer that uses them. The most well known style of vegetable flavored beer has to be pumpkin. Pumpkin beers are typically a seasonal offering from breweries and they have become wildly popular in the past 10 years in the US. Every fall, during pumpkin harvesting time, you'll find hundreds of different kinds of pumpkin beers offered up by local breweries to celebrate the coming of the season.
Let's talk about Gruit (pronounced "grew it"). Most beer drinkers will rarely come upon a beer brewed with gruit, but let it be known that almost all beer brewed since humanity discovered brewing, until about 1500 or so, was brewed without hops. Instead, ancient (and modern) brewers used a spice/herb mix called Gruit. Though the actual ingredients of gruit were marginally different across cultures, it has been used a primary flavoring agent in beer for a long time, and could consist of a lot of herbs you've never heard of like ivy, heather, mugwort, yarrow, sweet Gale, and additional spices you have heard of like cinnamon, nutmeg, etc. Gruit could essentially be a mix of almost any herb/spice combo that was thrown into the boil of the beer. Some modern breweries do make beers that incorporate gruit into the recipe, and they're not terrible! If you encounter one, give it a try!
Spices and beer can potentially be a match made in heaven. Often times, brewers rely on the hops and yeast to add the necessary flavor to a particular beer style, and from a traditional brewer's perspective, this is how it should be. But spices can be used very tastefully, and can often produce extremely unique beers that wouldn't otherwise come to fruition. Some spices that are used in brewing include: