Brewing with adjuncts is more than just dumping a specialty ingredient in the mash or adding it into a fermenter. As experimentation grows in the beer space, consumers are savvy about recipes and have expectations. Brewers need to understand what they are working with and how different flavors can impact beer.
Bailey Spaulding, the founder and brewmaster of Jackalope Brewing in Nashville, Tennessee has two well-known beers with adjuncts – Bearwalker, a brown ale with maple syrup, and Lovebird, a strawberry and raspberry wheat ale – and she joins us to share insight for making beers with special ingredients.
John Holl: How do you approach brewing with adjuncts?
Bailey Spaulding: The best thing I’ve learned, even before you get to the adjunct phase, is to think about why you are doing what you’re doing. Even when I was homebrewing I would ask questions of the ingredients. Why am I putting in these hops at this time and at that amount? And I’d pay attention to the breakdown of how and where things were used. We still do that, and think about the right time and where to use an ingredient. We brew a decent amount with adjuncts but for us it’s always been about the beer first and then thinking about how adjuncts can support the beer.
Holl: Why is it important to you to put the beer first?
Spaulding: If you want to brew with adjuncts you don’t want to be masking something, you want to be enhancing something that is already great. That’s an important piece for us. It shouldn’t be about throwing a bunch of shit [into a beer] and hoping no one will notice [flaws or defects]. Make sure the final product makes sense and tastes great.
Holl: How do you handle the personal tastes of you and the brewers versus consumer expectation?
Spaulding: If we were coming out with a new beer now, rather than when Bearwalker came out in 2011, consumers might be expecting a punch in the face of maple because that’s where beer is now. Some flavored beers are a lot like drinking pure maple syrup and that’s not for everyone. So, I think if it’s balanced and you say it’s a brown ale brewed with maple syrup, or whatever, you need to be thoughtful about the way you market it. Think about the beer first, then the adjunct.
Holl: When brewing with a new-to-you adjunct, what is your approach?
Spaulding: I ask the question: “How is it going to contribute? What effect do you want to have in the beer?” If it is a fermentable adjunct, how do you want to ferment, if you want it to ferment at all. Bearwalker was draft-only because we didn’t have a flash pasteurizer. Now we do, so it can go into cans. A great lab and quality specialist is also important.
We think about the characteristics of each adjunct and how it would interact with other ingredients or change [in the brewing or fermentation process]. We also think about layering because it’s lazy to just add everything all at once.
Holl: What about the economics of adjunct ingredients?
Spaulding: The cost of everything is going up and I think, in general, the consumer is pretty understanding of that. One of our big issues for 2022 is Lovebird because the raspberry crop had a bad harvest and so the price is going up. It’s a good reminder that we’re using agricultural products and a lot dictates price.
Increasingly the extreme weather is causing problems and we need to be paying attention. If you’re making a beer and it’s a one off and you don’t care about its future, you can have some fun. If you want it to be a beer that lasts you have to think about the crops and availability. It also has to do with location. If it’s in the taproom only you can make good margins, but if it is volume based the margins are slimmer. You need to look at the numbers and refine how you approach it.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.