When people think about the ingredients in beer, rice is likely not the first to come to mind. Beer’s main ingredients are malted barley, hops, yeast, and water. However, rice is used in some of the most popular beers in the world, and craft brewers have found that using rice in their brewhouse offers another tool with which to experiment.
The use of rice is nothing new in the beer world, but brewers have found that there may be more to rice as a brewing ingredient than was initially thought.
Why Do Brewers Use Rice In Beer?
Rice has a practical purpose in the brewing process whether the brewer intends to brew a rice beer or not. Many brewers add a portion of rice hulls to their mash. The mash is the process by which starches are converted into fermentable sugars. A brewer conducts a mash by mixing hot water with the malted grains he has selected for his beer.
A brewer can control the conversion of grain starches into sugar by adjusting the temperature of the water to activate enzymes in the malt. Once the mash is complete, the brewer must separate the sugary liquid from the grain solids.
This is a risky process as the weight of the water-grain mixture can compact itself, making it impossible for the sugary liquid to drain from the mash. However, brewers may add a percentage of rice hulls or husk to the mixture in an effort to avoid the mash compacting.
Rice hulls do not add flavor or fermentable sugars to the recipe; instead, their hard exterior helps keep the mash mixture from compacting. So, rice helps to keep the brewing process running smoothly, whether the beer is a rice beer or not.
Effect on Alcohol Content
Traditionally, rice in beer was an additional source of fermentable sugar. It is this fermentable sugar that yeast use to create alcohol. Thus, rice has a direct effect on the alcohol content of the beer. Though, to what degree depends on the other fermentables in the beer recipe.
Brewers have always used what was plentiful to them. Throughout history, barley was not always the most available option. Rice could step in as an adjunct fermentable to provide a sugar source for yeast to consume and create alcohol without adding extra body or flavor that would get in the way of the base beer style.
This availability of rice is exactly why Anheuser-Busch has used rice for its beers. They needed a source of fermentable sugar that was more available and less expensive than barley, and that resonated with the growing preference of light bodied beers over time. Today, many beers in the Budweiser brand are made with rice syrup to boost gravity and lighten the body.
The result is a light, clean tasting beer. While the historical application of rice in brewing has been to lighten the flavor and body of beers to create a crisp, clean taste.
Rice can also add flavor to beers. The rise in small, boutique-style craft brewers are known for experimenting with ingredients to push the boundaries of what is considered beer.
For a time, rice and its ability to lighten flavor was very much the antithesis of what craft beer wanted to be: bold, flavorful, and unique. However, just as there are many types of malt, hops, or yeast to change the character of a beer, many types of rice offer much more than just filler.
Today, craft breweries experiment with different rice styles and products to create an experience in their rice based beers. For example, one may use flaked rice in a mango cream ale to add body and a slight sweetness to mimic the flavors of a rice dessert.
Another might utilize forbidden rice, an heirloom variety, to adjust the color and flavor of different beer styles. Craft breweries may even opt to brew a traditional lager using rice to lighten the other grains and highlight a particular hop, for instance, the Japanese Sorachi Ace Hops variety making for a fun twist on a traditional Japanese rice lager.
Effect on Bitterness
The effects rice has on bitterness vary depending on how the brewer uses the rice and the type of rice used.
Rice would have little impact on bitterness if mainly used as an adjunct. Adding rice in this manner would increase gravity (potentially) and lighten the body and flavor. The result would be an increase in perceived bitterness, but not necessarily an increase in measured IBUs (International Bitterness Units).
On the flip side, using rice to add flavor or, like flaked rice, the body perceived bitterness might be reduced. But, again, this has little to do with the actual measured amount of alpha acids in the beer, simply how the beer’s bitterness is experienced.
Effect on Color
Like bitterness, rice may affect color in dramatically different ways depending on the type of rice used. Used as a syrup to lighten, a rice based beer may be lighter in color than the same beer made entirely of barley malt or other grains that have been kilned or roasted to contribute color to a beer.
However, not all rice beers are light bodied, with a clean taste. And not all rice is white. Forbidden rice is often called black rice but also has a purple hue. Additionally, red rice is marketed for brewers and is a suggested use with wheat beer. Both of these rice varieties may contribute color if brewed with.
What Beers Are Made With Rice?
- Bud Light
- Wiseacre Irusu Japanese Style Rice Lager
- Arches Yurei Rice Lager
- Anderson Valley Black Rice Ale
- Upslope Japanese Style Lager
- Stillwater Classique
- Almanac Horchata Almond Milk Stout
- Moody Tongue Toasted Rice Lager
- Kuhnhenn DRIPA Double Rice India Pale Ale
- Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale
- Asahi Super Dry
- Sapporo Premium
- Kirin Light
- Tsing Tao
- Master Gao Puffed Rice Chinese Pale Ale
Are Rice Beers Better For You Than Regular Beer?
There is nothing to suggest that beers brewed with rice provide any more health benefits than beer brewed with barley alone. Research suggests beer offers a variety of potential health benefits, including strengthening bones, protecting the heart, and even defending the brain against diseases like Alzheimer’s. Other studies report no correlation to beer and health and that any benefits would be negated due to alcohol.
Is Rice Beer Gluten Free?
Rice may be gluten free, but many rice based beers are brewed with other grains, so be careful and read the label if you are avoiding gluten. Gluten-free beers will likely say so on their label.
What Type Of Rice Is Used In Beer Brewing?
The majority of rice used in the brewing industry is rice syrup. However, flaked rice and other heirloom grains like black rice are popular with craft breweries.
Is Rice A Cheaper Ingredient Than Barley?
Both rice and barley are agricultural ingredients. Their price is sensitive to demand and availability. It varies depending on crop years, so generalizing that one is cheaper than the other is only sometimes the case. That said, one of the reasons larger multinational brewers may choose to incorporate rice into their beers is to cut costs.
Rice is grown in many locations around the world, whereas it can be difficult to grow barley save for specific areas within a particular latitude of the Earth.
Given rice’s availability, large brewers may save significantly by bringing in train cars full of rice syrup. However, craft brewers lack the economies of scale that large brewers enjoy. Plus, their goals are different in the finished product, so it is not out of the question that the particular type of heirloom rice they require may be reasonably expensive.