Barley is beer’s crucial component. It supplies the sugars that yeast crunches on to create alcohol. But it’s not the only crop in the mix—brewers that seek new ways to set themselves apart are, increasingly, going against the grain.
The ground-up movement takes different forms. Last year, Hopworks Urban Brewery partnered with Patagonia to create Long Root Ale, which featured the perennial wheatgrass Kernza.
“It has the spiciness of rye with the slight nuttiness of wild rice,” says Brewmaster Christian Ettinger, who adds that it also needs less water than barley.
Other ingredients, from oats to spelt, have their own impact on a pint. Here’s the perfect primer on how grains turn an average beer into an extraordinary sip.
While rice imparts little flavor, it creates a snappy beer with cloud-light body.
Try: Louisiana’s Great Raft Brewing uses native rice in its heat-cutting Southern Drawl Pilsner.
Rye contributes a crisp, peppery complexity and dryness to beer, just like it does to whiskey.
Try: Smuttynose Brewing Company’s Rhye IPA pairs a spicy rye charge with Citra hops that smack of mango and papaya.
Long used in stouts, oats have made their way into pale ales and IPAs. They contribute creaminess and a smooth, full body.
Try: Oats give Bell’s Brewery Oatsmobile Ale a bigger body that belies its modest alcohol.
The protein-rich grain fashions a full body and mouthfeel, plus it offers a fluffy and lasting head. Wheat can also lend a tart twinge.
Try: Modern Times Fortunate Islands, a wheat-smoothed beer walloped with tropical aromas.
It lightens a beer’s body and contributes a subtle, appealing sweetness.
Try: 21st Amendment Brewery El Sully, a snappy Mexican-style lager that features flaked maize.
This ancient species of wheat has been cultivated since around 5000 B.C., and it gives beer a nutty sweetness.
Try: You’ll be taken by the tart rusticity of Kent Falls Brewing Co.’s Field Beer Spelt.
Last Updated: May 22, 2023