Flavoring Beer: Pros, Cons, Opportunities, Challenges
A NAFFS STAFF REPORT
“Almost every town in America has its own small brewery . . . or 10. The growth from 2% of the market has grown 10-fold,” Stephen Rich, brewer, Certified Cicerone, Prud’homme Beer Sommelier, beer judge, told attendees of the 104th Annual NAFFS Convention. “Even still, craft beer is less than 20% of all beer consumed. However, the preference of buying local, buying small and supporting companies who operate in the backyard is widespread in America.”
Rich said it was in the 1990s when America saw a surge in the number of new breweries but just in the last decade many regional craft breweries, such as Sierra Nevada, Boston Beer, Lagunitas and others became well-known.
“Breweries doing specialized product are commonly known as craft breweries today,” Rich said. “They used to be called micro breweries in the early 2000s. It’s had more to do with quality and philosophy than it did with the size of the establishment.”
This close-by availability has increased awareness and willingness to try new beers, Rich said. “Adventurous consumers will try new flavors, even if their interest in the intricacies and histories of little-known British beer styles is not as keen as I’d enjoy and break out of what they already know.”
Rich said the vast majority of craft beer consumers are in the 18-35 age group. “It’s an increasingly diverse customer base that expects new and innovative products from their favorite brands and it wants new ones to be hitting the market every day.”
Brewers small and large, industrial and craft, are out there looking for ways to impress this group of consumers, Rich said, telling the audience that flavorists can provide expertise, value and differentiation to brewers. He said the same holds true for the production of hard seltzers and other ready-to-eat drinks.
“The raw material is exactly what it sounds like – the genuine flavor that is typically depicted in branding, marketing or on the label,” Rich said. “This could be any and all manners of fruits, spices, herbs and more.”
Rich cited chocolate, cocoa nibs, vanilla beans, coconut, coffee, cinnamon, clove, pepper corns as some common, solid raw materials. “These are all clearly generally solid in nature – meaning they don’t break down into a fluid easily,” he said.
“Since flavors or raw materials are generally added directly to brewing or fermentation vessels, many brewers will opt for liquid flavors when and where available – such as purees, juices or concentrates,” he said. “Flavor is the pure compound that is either derived directly from the raw material or is designed to evoke the characteristics of that raw material.”
The first samples were wheat beers. Rich highlighted Mango Wheat Ale by local brewery Golden Road which was made with American wheat and brewed with natural mango flavors. Allagash White was an example of a brew made with raw materials; a Belgian white brewed with real curacao orange peel and coriander.
“The thought of using freshly harvested cherries or roasted coffee beans is a daydream of many brewers,” Rich said, “but it can be extremely challenging.” Rich was referring to safety and mechanical challenges, plus lack of control, risk of contamination and other costly disadvantages when using raw materials. And still, he said, some brewers insist on taking the risk.
“It’s true, the smaller brewers who may only be dealing with a few buckets of material in small tanks or barrels aren’t going to benefit nearly as much from the advantage of a liquid flavor addition. It may also be easier and less expensive for them to stick with a manual addition method rather than worrying about dosing pumps or the techniques required to dose aseptically,” said Rich.
Another tasting ensued; this time it was a flavored IPA – Motorworks Brewery’s Pulp Friction. It’s a grapefruit IPA brewed with grapefruit essence.
To contrast that IPA with one that was brewed with raw materials, he offered Tropi Cannon by Heavy Seas Brewing. It’s a citrus IPA brewed with orange, lemon and grapefruit zest.
Rich said the most important message he wanted to share was that quality is and should be the guiding principle of any brewer. Quality means longevity in this business. Rich said he believes flavor can have a big piece of the quality in the final product. Quality means lowering the risk of contamination, something flavor provides.
Anytime you add something to the brewing process you introduce contamination risk, he said, noting that flavors can be pasteurized or sterilized without reducing quality. “This definitely lowers the risk of contamination and is generally preferred,” he said.
Rich is a proponent of using flavor in the brewing process over the use of raw materials. “Flavors provide significant advantages in batch-to-batch consistency with regard to dosing rate, final concentration and flavor,” he said. “Extraction results vary,” he added. “Material characteristics will change seasonally and consistency becomes impossible to achieve with raw materials.”
With flavors, Rich said, “brewers can define the specific flavor and aroma profiles they are looking for with exacting precision. Then, most importantly, they can ensure every single batch, no matter the size or season, gets the same dosage of flavor and the same net result.”
Are flavors also more efficient than raw materials? Again, for Rich, the answer is yes.
He said fruit is an extremely common addition to flavored beers and every fruit is comprised of vegetal material, liquid, sugars and flavor compounds. “Extraction is clearly easier for flavor. Flavor’s advantage is clear—perfect extraction or addition of the compound in question is achieved, with the added bonus of zero beer loss.”
There’s an environmental impact seen when using raw materials that Rich said was worth highlighting. “When you add fruit or even vanilla or coffee beans to beer, many compounds and liquids are extracted from the raw material to the beer. But a lot of beer can also be absorbed by that raw material in an exchange of sorts – and is therefore lost in the process. Unless you are using pure liquid juices or concentrates, adding raw materials of any kind will lead to a loss of beer, a waste of water and an increase in costs,” he said.
Rich said bittering compounds are measured as IBU, international bitter units. “It’s the isomerized alpha acid that comes from the hot plant that actually gives the perceived bitterness,” he said. “Bitterness is what combats the sweetness and body inherent in any malt beverage. Generally, the bitterness scale goes from 0 – water – to 100, with 100 being the theoretical threshold of your palate. Everyone's palate is different and everyone will be able to perceive different numbers of bitterness. I may only be able to perceive up to a maximum technical IQ of 90, where you may be able to perceive up to 120. And so realistically, you can make yours with 1000 International better units, but it would taste the same to us theoretically as whatever your palate can perceive maximally.,” Rich said. “Something like Bud Light or Coors Light is usually around 10 bitter units; the IPAs we tasted earlier would have been in the mid 40s or 50s, more bitter mostly because more coffee use. The wheat beers at the beginning would have been closer to like the 10 or 15 per-unit range, very little perceived bitterness.”
To Rich, “innovation” is a buzz word in every industry and beer is no exception. But it could not be more important! The advantages of speed-to-market can’t be over-emphasized, he said, adding that innovation can bring about new brand variants which are extremely popular and efficient.
Another set of beers demonstrated the difference between flavored stout/porter brewed with flavors and those brewed with raw materials. Rich presented a Peanut Butter Milk Stout made by Left Hand Brewery, brewed with lactose and natural peanut butter flavor. He compared that with the Midnight Express by Motorworks Brewing Co., a coffee porter brewed with freshly roasted coffee beans which he called a “classic porter, showcasing those dark coffee notes to begin with, as well as a little bit of dark chocolate and cocoa-like sensations, with a little bit of caramel and butterscotch.
“You can smell it right away,” he added, but it’s relatively delicate, it's not over the top. And I think that was the purpose of this beer was more to complement the natural coffee sensations.”
Innovation can be almost immediate when using flavors, Rich said. “Not just from a seed-to-market perspective but in the sheer limitless possibility of flavors that you can work with. Variants are possible with excellent precision and speed-to-market, none of which is seen when using raw materials.”
The decision to use natural raw material, Rich said, means sourcing all the different fruits needed from around the country or around the world. Trials need to be conducted to determine the amounts needed, whether to use the shoots or the pulp and where in the process it’s going to be applied. Those variables, he said, lead to slowed innovation, which is the exact opposite of the goal.
“Every brewer is different,” Rich said. “Each will place a different value on the process, materials, quality and consistency. There are craft brewers who will never consider flavor as an option but as we have seen, there are great advantages throughout the process.”
Rich said the craft movement has generally been all about small and independent brewers making beers they love and that they want to drink. “Every brewery is going to be different and place value on different factors. Some see the advantage of using flavor while others will use local raw materials no matter the cost, inefficiency, inconsistency or challenge,” he said.
The same will be true of larger brewers, Rich added. “Just because they're big doesn't mean they're going to look for the opportunities that flavor provides,” said Rich “For example, Sierra Nevada, one of the largest craft breweries in the word, still only uses whole cone hops rather than pelletized hops – as 95% of the worlds breweries exclusively do. Although whole cones are more difficult to work with, more expensive to store, have a shorter shelf life and produce more beer loss, Sierra Nevada believes the resulting beer is better with whole cone hops. They will never use pelletized hops. Their philosophical ideals may or may not allow them to consider the use of flavor – even though the financial impact may be considerably positive.”
Rich stressed his preference of the use of flavors over raw materials in brewing beers. “Efficiency and consistency are superior with flavor. Innovation is faster and more efficient, with flavor. Risk, contamination, environmental waste and mechanical misfunction are all reduced with flavor. There is no question, the advantage? It’s flavor.”