FACEOFF: Craft vs “Domestic” The Adjunct Taste Test

In Beer Reviews by Ryan

About two months ago I had a chance to sample Short’s Pontius Road Pilsner. Being a lover of all things Short’s I rarely pass up a chance to try even their most of pedestrian of offerings. I mean, not every beer can be a Strawberry Shortscake, right? Besides, I love a good pilsner and was eager to sample Short’s version.

Imagine my surprise when I took a sip and immediately thought, “this tastes like a macrobrew?!?”

Now I don’t mean that in a snobbish, turn my nose up at a beer sort of exclamation. It was more of a, “this tastes kinda sweet like a light beer and is a little watery too.”

I sensed adjunct and according to Short’s description of this beer, I was right (emphasis added).

“A true American style Pilsner where the malted barley, when blended with flaked maize (corn), produce a deliciously distinct flavor. It is light in body and color, with a surprisingly full flavor that gives way to crisp refreshment. Handfuls of hops provide pleasant aromatics and a wonderful dry finish.”

The Pontius Road Pilsner delivered on lightness and crispness, as advertised, which made me wonder; could any of the other Guys tell the difference between this and a macrobrew?

The “Adjunct Taste Test” was born.

I snagged a single bottle of the Pontius Road and instructed Karl and Andrew to acquire tallboys of Bud Light, Miller Lite and Coors Light. While the three latter beers don’t use corn, or maize,  (Miller Lite is brewed with corn syrup and Bud Light and Coors Light is brewed with rice) I felt they would offer a fair comparison.

Now, before we get too into the beers and how our contestants fared in the “Adjunct Taste Test,” let’s first get to know our adjuncts a little better. The following information is courtesy of Beer Advocate’s malt and adjunct guide.

  • Corn: “Corn has a sweet, smooth flavor that is compatible with many styles of beer. It is the most popular adjunct used in American breweries. It lowers the protein and polyphenol content of beers, thereby lightening body and reducing haze potential. Corn will provide a somewhat neutral flavor to the finished beer.”
  • Corn Syrup: “The two major syrups used in brewing are sucrose and starch-based…The starch-based syrups are produced from cereals by hydrolysis using acid, exogenous enzymes, or a combination of the two to produce a range of syrups with different fermentabilities. In recent years, there has been a great development in the range of starch-based syrups produced from corn and wheat. In the U.S., these adjuncts are produced exclusively from yellow corn; while in Europe, they are produced from corn and wheat.”
  • Rice: “Rice is currently the second most widely used adjunct material in the U.S. in the production of light-colored lager beers (30). Rice has almost no taste of its own, which is regarded as a positive characteristic since the rice will not interfere with the basic malt character of the beer. It promotes dry, crisp, and snappy flavors and is employed in several premium brands, including Budweiser.”

Now that we’ve gotten a crash course in adjuncts, on to the beer!

A few weeks after my initial; “Dude, this is like a macro,” experience I sat Andrew, Karl and our buddy Radstarr down for a blind taste test. The goal was to see if they could identify all four beers correctly.

Andrew sizes up the Adjunct Taste Test

I laid out, on a tasting paddle, 4 oz pours of each beer and a piece of paper marked with an A, B, C or D. The three participants were to write down which beer corresponded with each letter and any tasting notes they wanted to provide.

The results were actually quite surprising.

Sadly, no one was as thrown off by the Pontius Road Pilsner as I had hoped. In fact, everyone pinned that one as the craft beer right away. I guess it isn’t as macro-y as I initially thought. I’ll chalk that up to years of drinking craft beer, which can apparently make a slightly watery version of a pilsner, brewed with flaked corn, taste macro-ish.

The fun came when Andrew, Karl and Radstarr tried to identify the three offerings from the big boys.

Only one of them got one of those right.

Before we break down who thought what was what, lets first reveal which beer was which.

Beer A; Miller Lite, Beer B; Bud Light, Beer C: Short’s Pontius Road Pilsner & Beer D: Coors Light

And here are the each of our participants responses (correct answer, incorrect answer):

Andrew:

Beer A; Coors Light        Beer B; Miller Lite        Beer C: Short’s        Beer D: Bud Light

Karl:

Beer A; Coors Light        Beer B; Miller Lite        Beer C; Short’s        Beer D;  Bud Light

Radstarr:

Beer A; Bud Light            Beer B; Miller Lite        Beer C; Short’s        Beer D; Coors Light

Radstarr, in his element.

How about that? Our two esteemed beer writers you read here only managed to get one of the macro’s correct, while the energetic, hop-head music reviewer managed one of the macro’s correct and two out of four overall.

It is worth noting that no one got Bud Light and Miller Lite correct, although Radstarr came the closest. He mixed up the two while Andrew and Karl each thought that Miller Lite was Coors Light. Even more interesting is that everyone thought Bud Light was Miller Lite.

I did ask the guys to offer some tasting notes, which produced some gems – albeit brief ones.

Andrew, on what he thought was Bud Light but was really Coors Light;

“I really have nothing good to say here.”

Karl, also on what he thought was Bud Light but was really Coors Light;

“Most sparkly. Probably the corniest. Definitely the corniest.”

And Karl on what he thought was Coors Light but was really Miller Lite;

“Exceptionally PLAIN. Water.”

Sometimes less is more. And in this case Radstarr best summed up the Pontius Road Pilsner simply saying;

“Amen.”

From this angle this beers don’t look half bad…

So what do we take away from this?

First and foremost even a Short’s foray into the world of “light” beers brewed with an adjunct is head and shoulders above an actual light beer brewed with an adjunct.

Second, maybe there isn’t really that big of a difference between your favorite light/lite beer brand.

And third, maybe we aren’t as smart as we think we are.

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About the Author

Ryan

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Equal parts beer nerd and policy geek, Ryan is now the curator of the Guys Drinking Beer cellar. The skills he once used to dig through the annals of state government as a political reporter are now put to use offering unique takes on barrel-aged stouts, years-old barleywines and 10 + year verticals.

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