In the United States, the types of grains we use in alcohols are pretty obvious – we have wheat growing everywhere, and barley isn’t particularly difficult to come by. But then again, so is rice.
Rice isn’t commonly used in making Americanized alcohols, right? If we hold ourselves to the old German Beer Purity Law, then we can only make a beer with water, hops and barley (and later wheat). But we all know that most beer is made with more than four ingredients.
So, if we substitute one of those ingredients can we make beer with rice?
The answer is an easy yes, but here’s the thing: you probably drink rice beer pretty often.
Rice Beer: An Abbreviated History
If I were to ask you to name a rice-based beer off the top of your head, you’d probably say Sapporo. If you don’t know what Sapporo is then you would probably say nothing.
Sapporo, for those who don’t know, is one of the most well-known Japanese beers. Japan, of course, is known for being a big producer of rice.
As you might be able to imagine, Japanese brewers opted to use local ingredients because they were cheaper and more available. Such was the birth of many rice beers like Sapporo.
This isn’t to say that Japan is the only country producing these types of beers. Rice is a cheap grain, so many brewers have hopped on the train. Unsurprisingly, you could find rice in Chinese beers pretty easily.
Oh ya, and most beers in general.
As American As Rice Beer
Here are the facts: American beers use rice – and lots of it.
Yup. If you drink Budweiser or Bud Light then you are part of the rice-beer movement. Congratulations!
Wait a moment, Thomas – why are two of the most American beers using it instead of barley? Great question, and it has a very American answer: it’s a very cheap ingredient.
When Anheuser-Busch is making beer, they really aren’t concerned with what’s going in the beer so much as how big their profit margins are. Facts are facts, and rice is cheaper than other grains.
They aren’t the only brewers guilty of cutting costs – essentially all Coors, Miller and Keystone beers combine their barley with corn because corn is, you guessed it, cheap.
Does this mean that rice beers are cheap? No, not at all. Brewers can obviously use whatever ingredients they would like. However, when a brewer is using rice as a substitute in order to make a cheaper product, then it sort of gets a bad rep in beer.
So, I recommend switching away from your sneaky, cheap beers and trying an honest rice beer – you might be pleasantly surprised with how good a flavor the grain can produce.