by Kido Hirotaka

Grain is actually just the seed of a plant and the starches therein are an important food source. Because it is easy to grow and stores well, and because of its necessary nutrients for humans, grain has been used for food since ancient times.

Grain used in the production of beer is mainly barley and wheat. These two grains are among the world’s oldest harvested products, with their cultivation dating back well over 10,000 years ago. Grain also has a high yield. Sumerians in the Neolithic age who cultivated it therefore did not have to focus on farming all the time and thus it is credited as being a cornerstone for civilization—with a stable food source, they could focus on other things. So basically it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say wheat and barley are the foods that created civilization! These grains are also key to making beer, along with hops, water and yeast. But brewers have used a variety of other grains to make beer, too.

Baird Beer’s seasonal “Brewmaster’s Nightmare Rye IPA” and Isekadoya’s seasonal “Ryezen” both use rye of course. Long ago, rye was considered a kind of weed that popped up in wheat fields, and was used in bread, whiskey and vodka. Rye imparts to beer a unique spiciness as well as a glutinous quality, but this stickiness can be a pitfall for the brewer. During lautering, when mash is separated from the wort, rye can become a gummy blob, making it an ingredient only highly skilled brewers can work with. In addition to rye, your breakfast—yes, “oatmeal”—is often used, though it’s known by other names in Japan, like “crows’ wheat.” Since oatmeal is high in fats and oils, the beer retains a velvety mouth feel. It is often used in more boldly flavored stouts, hence the Oatmeal Stout.

Beyond grains, large producers will often add rice, corn and starch to beer. The aim is to temper the grain flavor and create a beer that is crisp and clean. Many people tend to think that breweries use rice, corn and starch to reduce costs, but compared to malt, rice is actually more expensive. Corn, too, may seem cheaper, but add in its processing cost and it’s about the same as malt, maybe more. Finally, “starch,” which has become something of a key word with big breweries (because of the label “rice, corn, starch”) is often confused with cornstarch. It’s actually just some undefined starch.

Rice isn’t only used to temper the flavor of grain. Isekadoya, again, makes two seasonal ales, “Kodai-mai” (ancient rice) and “Genmai” (brown rice), that are exactly the opposite of large breweries in that they try to bring out the subtle rice flavor. You can savor that fragrant rice flavor reminiscent of dried rice cakes broken apart for snacking. For most Japanese, it carries nostalgia, and for the uninitiated, the flavor is quite unique.

Food for mankind. Ingredient for alcohol. And, of course, the main actor of civilization. Without grain, what would there be to say about us?

This article is shared content with the Japan Beer Times, a sister publication. For more information, please visiti:















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