top of page

Home Brewer's Corner: The Ultimate Guide to Brewing with Adjuncts

Updated: Sep 1, 2021



ITS NO SECRET THAT CALI CREAMIN' IS OUR SECRET SAUCE. Our most popular beer possesses something that can be very hard to achieve in any beer, much less flavored beer - Balance. Craft breweries have become well known for our ability to push the envelope when it comes to flavor combinations. Those flavor combos typically only came from the 4 main ingredients - Malt, Hops, Yeast, and water, until a radical new trend saw American brewers including all sorts of interesting additives to create complex and surprising flavors. If you've had a number of these crazy concoctions you've no doubt recognized that there can be some mixed results in terms of consistency. That's not to say they are bad, because that's a matter of opinion, but repeatable? Consistent? Balanced? That's the part that leaves a lot of brewers (especially home brewers) left searching for answers.


From our humble beginnings over a decade ago, to helping brewers in our retail store (RIP), to the scaled commercial versions we brew now, we've taken away some learnings about working with various flavors, or adjuncts. Though our methods now may vary greatly from the batches of the past, many of the principles apply to brewing both small and large scale brews. Hopefully our experience will help you avoid some of the pitfalls of brewing with adjuncts, and possibly even save a batch or two.


LESS IS MORE



This is probably the single biggest mistake home brewers make and there are a couple good reasons. First, the "wow" factor. After all, half of the joy of home brewing is sharing, and there is a temptation to just blow away the drinker at first sip with a barrage of flavors. The problem is that in the real world we all want thing out of beer - drinkability. As soon as one dominant flavor takes over, especially a polarizing one, drinkability suffers. Play it safe until you really understand how that adjunct will affect the finished product. If you did your job correctly on recipe development, the base beer will stand on it's own even if you end up under-shooting the adjunct.


Take Cali Creamin' as an example. If you pull the Vanilla out of it it's still a very delicious cream ale. The goal should be to design a delicious beer with or without the featured flavor. You can always dial it up from there. Everything in moderation as they say.


CONTROL BATCH SIZE



Finished volume is something that is difficult to control on the commercial scale, but even harder for the average home brewer. Assuming most of you reading this are brewing five to ten gallon batches, there is a huge amount of variability in batch yield size. Evaporation, amount of hops used, amount of yeast used, fermentation problems, and bottling/kegging losses can all play a role. Small losses can add up quickly. Here's an example - If you are brewing a 5 gallon batch (target finished yield) and you unexpectedly lose just .5 gallons, which is common, thats a ten percent reduction.


Let's say you are brewing a smoked porter and you are cheating with liquid smoke (not recommended by the way. Use Rauch malt), and your recipe only calls for 3 mL in 5 gallons, adding an adjunct that strong and distinct without an adjustment could make your beloved porter taste like a campfire. Boom. Batch ruined. Make sure you have a clear understanding of what your volumes are like and make adjustments as needed.


PRACTICE WITH ONE INGREDIENT



So you are getting back on the horse after a brewing hiatus and you really want to knock this one out of the park.

"Eureka! Methinks it's a good idea to brew a Piña Colada Glitter Saison!"

Bad idea. Start by learning how to brew with one ingredient at a time until you get really good at working with it. Some popular examples of adjuncts that are easy to work with are:

  • Chocolate

  • Coffee

  • Orange & Lemon peel

  • Vanilla


BREW A COMPLIMENTARY BASE STYLE



As stated earlier, brewing a solid base beer will save your butt in the event you make a miscalculation or mistake. Not only that, but it will give you the opportunity to experience the nuances of the adjunct and learn about how its flavors impact the beer as opposed to being masked. What style do you think will lend itself better to dried lemon peel, a Hefeweizen or a Doppelbock? Clearly the weizen. Worst-case scenario you've got a wonderful wheat beer to enjoy in the pool, right?


INTENSITY = AMOUNT x CONTACT TIME



Honestly it's not as complicated as this pic would make it seem. In fact it's pretty common-sensical. The more you add and the longer you let it sit, the stronger the flavor. If you are adding an adjunct into secondary fermentation, make sure you put it in a bag for easy removal, or be prepared to bottle quickly. Once you test the beer and reach the desired level of intensity, you'll want to remove the adjunct to prevent overdoing it. Keep this principle in mind when you are dosing because if you are dumping in a bunch of something before you go on vacation for a week, you may want to be REALLY conservative. Conversely, if you are out of time and need a beer done quickly, amp up the amount and git er done!


TRY MAKING A TINCTURE



A whaaaa? A tincture. It's basically an ethanol extraction and it's super easy to make. Imagine you are making cookies. When the recipe calls for Vanilla extract, do you throw a couple beans in the bowl and mash em all up because you want authentic vanilla flavor? No. You do what yields the best results. Using tinctures has a number of benefits:

  • Shelf life - A tincture will last months or even years in the cabinet. If it's an ingredient you anticipate using often. Make a big batch and store it.

  • Predictable, testable, repeatable - dosing by volume will lead to better results. Stop guessing and find yourself a graduated syringe, Pyrex, or jigger, and figure out where the sweet spot is.

  • Dose in secondary - There are a number of adjuncts that may change flavors depending on whether or not they are used on the hot or cold side (in the kettle vs. in the carboy). Adding an adjunct during secondary fermentation just before bottling is clean, easy and keeps the beer clear. Just don't forget to add it to the bottom of the carboy before transferring so you don't have to stir it. That will oxidize the beer.

  • Flavor authenticity - Extracting flavor with alcohol preserves a lot of the natural flavor as opposed to a synthetic extract alternative.


LET'S GET DOWN TO BUSINESS



Now that we've covered the basics, let's run through some tips for working with the more popular adjuncts.


CITRUS


Oranges, Lemons, Limes, and Grapefruits are some of the more popular in brewing although they have many relatives. The key to using them is to avoid the pith. Use a nice sharp shallow peeler like those used by bartenders to harvest just the surface peel or zest them. Lay them out to dry and add them in the last 5-10 minutes of the boil. Typically just an ounce or two is enough to influence a 5 gallon batch.


Pro Tip - recipes you find online or in brewing books that list citrus adjuncts will be in dry weight unless otherwise stated. If you are using them in wet weight, multiply by four.


CHOCOLATE


Popular in dark ales such as Stouts and Porters, chocolate will give a beer a rich, dessert-like quality when used correctly. When used incorrectly it can make beer bitter. As a rule, use a sweetened chocolate and find something high quality. Bars, powders, liquids, and chips all work, but nibs are fantastic and you don't have the same problems with the chocolate dissolving. Add nibs to the last 5-10 minutes of the boil.


Pro Tip - Cocoa powder can be a mess to work with and unsweetened versions absolutely will not dissolve readily, even when boiled.


COFFEE



You've probably just used ground coffee, which works, but if you are hot-brewing your coffee you are pulling tannins and acidity out that can be avoided by cold brewing. Make a cold brew and dose the beer during secondary fermentation for a cleaner, less astringent flavor.


Pro Tip - Try "dry hopping" with whole beans. Put the beans in a nylon bag and immerse them in the beer in secondary fermentation for a few days. The aroma will be more intense up front but will diminish more quickly over time.


FRUIT MEAT/PULP


Using the actual fruit itself rather than the skins or peels isn't recommended unless the flavor you are after is only contained there. Mangos, for example, aren't going to give you anything from the skins, nor are apples. In that case you would need the internals but keep in mind some of the fruit juice will be inadvertently squeezed out and can lead to exploding bottles! To avoid this add the squeezed juice or fruit to the boil in the last few minutes.


Pro Tip - Using unpasteurized raw fruit or juice can lead to batch contamination. Make sure to boil fruit from the last few minutes of the boil.


VANILLA



We saved the best for last didn't we? Whether you are working with the whole beans or planning on making a tincture it's important to remember that vanilla beans' flavor contribution can be somewhat hard to predict. That's because crop to crop varies in intensity much like hot peppers. Also there are a number of vanilla beans varietals, some of which are stronger than others. Start by slicing the beans open and peeling back the outer layer to expose the seeds, then quarter them. Drop in between 2 and 4 beans (8 to 16 quarters) to start and test daily.


Pro-Tip: This is an adjunct where a tincture really helps to hit that sweet spot. Follow the same procedure for using them raw but add the vanilla to a neutral spirit to extract. Only a couple ounces of beans will make a potent tincture.




HOW TO MAKE A TINCTURE



As mentioned before, making tinctures is a great way to get consistent and predictable results. Here's a step by step guide:

  1. Fill a mason jar with your adjunct of choice. Keep volume and loss in mind when you do this. It doesn't have to be crammed full, but should be full enough to make a nice strong extract, that way you aren't having to dump an entire handle of vodka into your beer to get results.Yuck! For example, filling a jar with fresh mangos is going to take up a heck of a lot more room than a jar full of cinnamon sticks, and fruit meat is going to soak up some of the liquid so you'll want to make sure you're going to yield enough to dose a full batch of beer in secondary fermentation. Moral of the story is...make extra.

  2. Generally most of the extraction occurs within the first 24-48 hrs, but for good measure give it at least three days to soak in a cool, dark place.

  3. Strain out the vodka and discard the adjunct if you don't have a use for it. Some can be consumed after extraction. Vodka-soaked fruit, for example, is great for party punch and sangria!

  4. Use a pipette or other graduated syringe such as those used for kids' medication and draw a small sample of the extract. Add 1mL at a time to 4oz of beer and taste. Repeat as necessary, increasing the adjunct volume until it's right. Then scale up for your finished batch size. Here's what the equation might look like:

2mL extract per 4oz beer (2ml/4oz)

There are 128oz in a gallon (128oz x 5 gal=640oz per batch)


2mL/4oz = (X)/640oz

4(X) = 1280

1280/4 = X

320mL


Now for ease of measuring and dosing you can convert that to ounces with a simple online calculator and voila! For 5 gallons of finished beer you would need 10.82 ounces of your tincture. (Don't forget to add the tincture to your bottling bucket or keg before you rack the beer over.) Easy right?!


Don't be discouraged by poor results early. Brewing with adjuncts is something that improves with experience. If you keep it simple and are diligent in note taking, you can create something that we all aspire to make - A beer with "wow" factor AND drinkability.






275 views2 comments
bottom of page