Everyone knows the mantra: malt, hops, yeast, water. These are the four essential ingredients of all beer, codified into law by the Germans centuries ago (since repealed, but still culturally relevant). Brewing with anything beyond these four items, with very few exceptions, is viewed as suspect by traditionalists.
The term for ingredients outside the fab four is adjunct. A formal definition for adjunct varies, with some including anything beyond the given four categories whereas others restrict it to additional sources of fermentable sugars. At its core, the meaning of adjunct is generally taken to be additions that provide explicit flavoring agents beyond those naturally provided by brewing with malt, hops or yeast alone, which can include fruit, vegetables, chocolate, coffee, tea, specialty sugars, syrups, herbs and spices.
Whatever the definition, the essence of an adjunct addition is either to enhance the flavor of the base recipe or to create something new. Adding fruit should play with the natural flavors produced in an ale or lager; spices or fresh herbs should work as an element of the flavor profile, as they would in any restaurant dish; sugars as late additions should work with those lost to fermentation. The adjunct should be recognizable (or at least provide a detectable difference with its absence) but the beer should still retain its original “beerness” in overall taste and character.
FiestyFest provides a masterclass on how to handle adjunct ingredients.
Last month, Fort Worth’s HopFusion Ale Works held their annual FeistyFest, a celebration of one of their best-selling and most popular beers, the award-winning Feisty Blonde. Featured at the FeistyFest was a taster superflight of different variations of the conventional Feisty Blonde ale, and a perfect example of how brewers can play with and treat adjuncts.
I’m not usually a fan of beer tasting flights (always preferring a full pour over just a sample) but this provided the perfect format for this series. Each sample packed more than the ordinary punch (all but two were ABV +7%), and the full spectrum provided enough time for each to slightly warm and the flavors to bloom.
All beers were available for purchase as a full pour, but included in the superflight sampler were:
- Feisty Blonde – the deceptively potent original, a smooth, honey-blonde ale with a touch of Mexican vanilla
- Feisty Redhead – a hibiscus cherry blonde that was perfumy, almost bathroom deodorizer (but in a good way)
- Feisty Brunette – with blackberries and blueberries added
- Thorny Blonde – a prickly pear blonde, which lends an indistinct yet wonderful fruit/vegetable flavor that pairs perfectly with beer flavors. (Every brewery in Texas should have a prickly pear beer on rotation.)
- Vietnamese Sunrise – a blonde beer with dark roast, cold-brewed Vietnamese coffee. Still smooth and light but with rich elements of volcanic coffee in a blonde ale.
- Feisty Slipper – a Skinny Blonde (a lighter version of the Feisty) with bitter dark chocolate and dark cherries
- Sangria Redhead – the Feisty Redhead with fruit addition (which mimicked a true sangria quite well)
- Peach Cobbler – a Skinny Blonde with peaches added and served with a rim of brown sugar, which on balance with the malty beer had a great cobbler effect
- Peach Ginger – another Skinny Blonde modification with a milder peach addition but added ginger, making it very refreshing (especially when cold)
- And a special Vietnamese Sunrise served through a modified Randall* treatment, with a fresh infusion of Vietnamese coffee, cocoa nibs, dried chipotle chiles and a blend of spices. This serving method gave a sharp pop to every element, from a smokey pepper sweetness to freshly brewed dark coffee.
HopFusion provided a masterclass on how brewers can and should handle adjunct ingredients. Feisty Blonde provided an optimal canvas to further paint beer portraits based on some popular and reliable flavor combinations, each to very successful effect. Everything worked naturally with the original beer, spun in various flavor directions; nothing stood out as unnatural or bizarre or quirky, or took the set of beers out of the balanced concept of variations on a theme.
Note what is missing from this sampler lineup. None of these Feisty variants included adjuncts that took away from the base (admittedly, a somewhat neutral product to begin with) but instead created a new child product. Each of these additions enhanced the original beer, and none hijacked the taste and experience of the original with a incongruent non-beer element. None of these beers included other processed commercial products (ie, marshmallows, pastries, Graham crackers, bacon, ramen, Gatorade, pickles, breakfast cereal) that added unfermentable elements and dominated the flavor.
Local brewers could learn a lot from the FeistyFest idea. Adjuncts have too long been regarded as one-note marketing gimmicks used more to make a social media splash than to produce an enjoyable beverage with a long commercial life. Offering and selling new beers does not always mean inventing a whole new beer style, and some common enhancements can provide exceptional and reliable taste combinations that consumers can enjoy again and again.
Make adjuncts cool again.
* Invented at the Dogfish Head brewpub, the Randall was a serving method popular in the early 2000s that used common commercial filter equipment to run tap beer through a chamber filled with whole hops before dispensing into a glass. The effect is a fresh, unique and vibrant hit of whatever ingredient is included that enhances the original beer in a way that cannot be captured in a packaged product.