Traditionally, beer is made from a mixture of hops, barley or malt, yeast and water. Yeast acted as a fermenting agent and the addition of hops worked as a stabiliser to prolong the shelf life of the beer. However, recently, with the growing popularity of craft beers across the globe, rice is often used as an ingredient. You will be surprised to see that there are rice beer options beyond just Asahi.
And here’s a guide to help you:
What is rice beer?
As the name implies, rice beer is a beer that contains rice as an ingredient, whether it is the husk or the grain of the rice or any rice-based products.
These days, you will find modern-day brewers using whole rice, rice syrup or rice flakes.
This usually serves three main purposes: enhancing flavour, as a source of sugar for fermentation and facilitating the brewing process.
How is rice beer made?
Here is an example of how rice beer is made by YouTuber DrHans Brewery:
This is the process that he uses:
- First, he fills a pot of rice with water and then rinses it.
- After rinsing, he continues submerging the rice in water and boiling it for 30 minutes.
- When the rice water comes to a boil, he lets it simmer for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, he uses a grinder to grind up all his malts comprising of Pilsner and Munich malts as his “base malts” and caramalt for extra flavour.
- Next, he heats up his malt water to 65-66°C, and he adds in his ground malts stirring vigorously. Subsequently, he adds the oat hulls and ensures that everything is mixed in thoroughly.
- Afterwards, he proceeds to add the boiled rice, stirring until there are no clumps left. He also pours in a small drop of lactic acid.
- Subsequently, all the starch is converted into sugar, and he uses the iodine test to make sure there is no starch left. He proceeds to raise the temp to 75-76°C.
- Afterwards, the grains are separated from the sweet wort.
The sparging process
9. He starts to “sparge” the grains by connecting the pot of grains to a vat of boiling water using a flexible tube. Sparging is done at 98°C.
10. After he is done with sparging the grains, the wort collected is boiled.
11. He continues to boil the wort mixture and adds a filter.
12. Hops are added to the mixture to add bitterness.
13. The wort is cooled and drained into a vat.
14. He proceeds to add oxygen to the mixture to encourage yeast growth using a diffusion stone.
15. Yeast is added.
17. The mixture is left to ferment in the fridge.
Why is rice used in beer?
Here are some reasons why rice is used in beer:
1. Some rice beers are gluten-free
If you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, why not try gluten-free rice beer instead of barley or wheat beer? Enjoy a cup of beer without worrying about triggering your immune system.
Note: Not all rice beers are completely gluten-free, so please conduct ample research before rushing off to the nearest supermarket.
2. Rice beer contains antioxidant properties
A study conducted by Jorhat-based College of Home Science (CHS)’s department of food and nutrition, Assam Agricultural University (AAU) and the Tamil Nadu-based Indian Institute of Crop Processing Technology (IICPT) showed that the antioxidant properties were essential in helping to fight cancer and any diseases caused by free radicals.
3. Rice adds a subtle umami taste to beer.
You may be familiar with the umami flavour, which is found in breast milk that you drank as a baby. This unique flavour can also be found in Monosodium glutamate(MSG), which is a common ingredient used in processed foods and instant noodles.
In addition, Anderson Valley Brewing Company uses black rice in their beers, which adds a layer of complexity to their drink due to the nutty and interesting texture. Hitachino’s Red Rice Ale has been described as a drink with a “fruity flavour and aroma”.
4. Rice beer may be cheaper to produce
Due to the higher cost of using malt, rice is often “used as an adjunct in brewing to supplement the sugar content of barley and wheat malt”. In Kenya and Japan, breweries can save costs on production taxes leading to greater cost savings for consumers.
5. Rice is plentiful in Asia
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation(FAO) of the United Nations, “Rice is the staple food of Asia and part of the Pacific. Over 90 percent of the world’s rice is produced and consumed in the Asia-Pacific Region.”
As such, it makes sense for rice beers to be popular in Asian countries.
6. Rice has a lower oil composition (compared to corn grits)
There are several problems that can occur when using products with a higher fat content, namely “increased yeast growth and reduced ester formation during fermentation, reduced foam stability, flavor problem and gelatinization difficulties”.
Thus, it is easier to manufacture beer using rice grains.
For more information, the YouTube video below talks about how rice in beer can be used as an adjunct.
7. Rice is a commonly discarded food waste
For the moonbeam co., we research the application of rice beer because unserved cooked rice is a big form of waste in Singapore. We want to reduce food waste in Singapore and explored fermentation as a technique to completely utilise rice of this form.
What does rice beer taste like?
There are different varieties of rice beer, and the taste of rice beer often runs the gamut from sweet, fresh, crisp, to neutral.
Beer connoisseurs often state that it lightens the flavour profile of some heavy-bodied alcoholic beverages. Thus, most breweries before the 1800s abstained from using rice as an ingredient, even comparing it to “rat poison”. However, things have changed since then.
What’s the difference between rice beer and rice wine?
Before we dive into the fundamental differences between rice beer and rice wine, do you know what is ABV(alcohol by volume)?
The ABV of a beverage is defined as:the amount of alcohol in a drink, expressed as a percentage of the total volume.
For popular brands of rice beers such as Asahi Super Dry and the Kirin Lager, most of them have an ABV(alcohol by volume) of 3.6-6.5%. They usually have a “rounded, firm malty character with moderate bitterness and a trademark dry finish”.
The Black Rice Ale by Anderson Valley Brewing company has an ABV of 3.8% which is comparatively low to rice wines.
When it comes to rice wine, most of us would think of Japanese sake or Korean makgeoli. However, it is a misnomer, as sake is actually a type of beer and not wine. Similar to Western brewing and fermenting methods, Japanese sake is made by steaming the rice and adding fungus directly to the rice, providing a conducive environment for yeast to grow and thrive.
Sake is a typically clear, alcoholic beverage with a complex flavour, and ABV of 14-16%. However, there are non-alcoholic versions of sake available as well, such as amazake and Gekkeikan sake.
A bottle of sake may contain any of these five fundamental flavours, according to Eat-Japan:
|shibumi||Astringency or tartness|
As for Makgeolli, it involves soaking rice in a mixture of water and nuruk (Korean yeast starter), which is a similar method to making rice beer. Most commercial Makgeolli brands have an ABV of 6-9% to cater to a wider demographic.
However, traditional Makgeolii has an ABV of 12-18%.
Makgeolli has been described as a cloudy beverage with” sweet, sour, with even a little bit of bitter tastes” and even a “fruity, dusty, floral aroma with a bit of chalky texture”.
Despite this, there are some key differences in the ingredients used for rice wine and rice beer. Rice beer contains hops, malts or barley, water and yeast.
On the other hand, sake contains only rice, water, yeast and koji mold. As for Makgeolli, it contains dry yeast, nuruk (korean yeast starter), rice and water. Therefore, rice is the primary ingredient as opposed to being a secondary ingredient.
Meanwhile, traditional wine is made from fruit(usually grapes) with an ABV of 10-14%.
To summarise, here are the differences between rice wine and rice beers:
|Rice wines||Rice beers|
|Alcohol by volume(ABV)||Higher alcohol content |
ranging from 14-16% for sake,
12-18% for traditional Makgeolii
and 6-9% for commercial brands
|Lower alcohol content |
ranging from 3.6%-6.5%
|Taste and mouthfeel||Sweet, sour, bitter, fruity, chalky for Makgeolli|
Dry, bitter, sweet, acidic, sweet, tart for sake
|Could be sweet, crisp, |
neutral, bitter or dry
|Production method||Steaming rice and |
adding fungus to
the rice or soaking rice in a mixture
of water and yeast starter
|Rice is added with the malts |
and yeast is added afterwards
|Appearance||May appear clear(sake) or cloudy white(Makgeolii)||Usually appears clear, with a light yellow to a golden yellow hue|
|Ingredients used||Sake:Rice, water, |
yeast and koji mold
Makgeolli:Dry yeast, nuruk
(Korean yeast starter),rice and water
|Hops, malt or barley, rice, yeast, water|
What’s the difference between rice beer and wheat beer?
Wheat beer originated from Germany, and it is defined as any beer which contains at least 50% wheat. Thus, the ratio of wheat to barley and rye must be higher than the average beer.
As compared to rice beer with an ABV of 3.6-5.6%, wheat beer has an ABV of 4.0 to 7.0%.
There is a dizzying myriad of wheat beers to choose from, such as the Dunkelweizen, Weizenbock, Witbier Berliner Weisse and the American Wheat.
Most wheat beers are either infused with a fruity or citrusy flavour or a mix of bubblegum, cloves and bananas.
What’s the difference between rice beer and corn beer?
Just like rice, corn is often used as an adjunct when it comes to beers. According to The Spruce Eats, the flavour produced by rice is much less intense compared to corn, producing a “clean, dry taste” as opposed to a “slightly sweet smoothness”.
Some people claim that adding rice and corn to beer makes the taste of traditional beer more diluted and less authentic.
In contrast to rice beer, corn beer usually has an ABV of 2-3%.
What’s the difference between rice beer and barley beer?
Barley is an essential component when it comes to making beer, but rice is optional. It has a much higher ABV than rice beer, at 6-12%.
There are different ways to incorporate barley into a beer as well, such as chocolate malt, black malt, smoked malt and ashy malt as well as cara/ crystal malt.
If you have more adventurous taste buds and you prefer bitter and smoky flavours, you can try beers made from smoked malt and ashy malt. For those with a sweet tooth, the crystal malt will suit you better.
Making rice beer is not easy, but many breweries have mastered this art form. To cater to consumers with exquisite and refined palates across the globe, rice beers are becoming increasingly ubiquitous.
With more and more craft brewers experimenting with new flavours and techniques of making beer, you will be spoilt for choice, whether you are an Asahi Super Dry or Straphanger fan.