Rice Lager: A Gluten-Free Delight

Years ago, I explored (at a very high level) what it’s like to make beer with rice. Basically, while a “traditional” (read: Reinheitsgebot) beer is made with barley, beers just need to be made with some type of grain.

This is where rice comes in. Rice, super abundant and incredibly inexpensive, has long been a popular ingredient for beers you know and love like Sapporo and Bud Light. So, what makes a Rice Lager so special? Perhaps it’s just the branding.

Rice Lagers Explained

My inspiration for this post is twofold.

  1. There are Japanese Rice Lagers everywhere in San Diego and I love it.
  2. I’ve noticed that people love drinking Japanese Rice Lagers because they’re light and delicious. 

Ok, so what makes a Rice Lager a Rice Lager?

First off, let’s start with the lager part. The two beers I’ve already mentioned – Sapporo and Bud Light – are both lagers. As a recap, lagers differ from ales due to different yeasts and fermentation methods. You can learn a lot more about lagers by clicking that last link.

Next, we discuss rice. Contrary to what I believed, rice lagers don’t entirely substitute barley for rice — at least not all the time. Instead, most rice lagers use a blend of rice and barley.

What does a rice lager taste like?

The best buzz word I can use to describe a rice lager is clean. These beers are light in color, light in feel, and light in your belly. They’re great served cold and pair perfectly with a nice summer day. 

As far as taste, rice lagers tend to be far from bitter or malty. These neat beers are very floral-forward, if that makes any sense at all. Don’t mistake the “clean” and “neat” lingo to mean that rice lagers have no flavor. They have flavor, albeit much more subtle than, say, a Hazy IPA.

Why Are They Called Japanese Rice Lagers?

Brewers call their rice lagers Japanese Rice Lagers because they get to pick the names of the beers. The same can go for style of beer; as we’ve explored in the past when looking at stouts and poters, many beer names, styles, etc are basically just based on opinions these days. 

Aside from most of these lagers being produced in Japan, there really isn’t anything in the recipe that dictates the beer be called, or not called, a Japanese Rice Lager over a rice lager. Some breweries might be trying to emulate the style of Japanese Lagers while others might just be adding rice to their brew.

So, why do breweries call their lager a Japanese Rice Lager? Because they want to, and because it has rice in it.

Yes, Rice Lagers Are Gluten Free

Rice is a friendly food for our gluten-free beer drinkers, but that doesn’t mean that all rice lagers are gluten-free. Recall earlier in this article when I said that rice lagers are usually a blend of barley and rice. Barley is still not gluten-free.

If you want to know whether a rice lager is gluten-free, you need to either read the label or ask a brewer/bartender. I have no clue how your local brewer is making their Rice Lager, or even if they’re making it at all. But hey, if you want a gluten-free rice drink then may I recommend premium sake

Thomas Short
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