ad·junct – /ˈaˌjəNGkt/ – noun
What’s your favorite adjunct in a beer? Coffee? Vanilla? Chocolate? I personally wouldn’t choose either of those three. Not because they’re not delicious, but because they’re not adjuncts. Yes, really.
In the beer world, an adjunct is a fermentable ingredient that is supplemental to the malted grains used for the base of the beer (typically malted barley). Oats are an adjunct. Belgian candy sugars are an adjunct. Maple syrup, brown sugar, regular sugar, rice, rye, honey, wheat, and corn are all adjuncts. All of these ingredients impact aspects of the flavor, color, mouthfeel, head retention or clarity of the beer but most importantly, they are fermentable. That’s what makes them an adjunct.
Things like coffee, chocolate (which typically is added to a beer in the form of cacao nibs), vanilla, bourbon, chilies, cinnamon, orange peels and a host of other ingredients are not adjuncts. To some of you, this might sound crazy and I’m sorry for the shock. It sounds crazy to you because you know a lot of people who know a lot about beer and they use the word “adjunct” when talking about those ingredients all the time. It seems that in the last few years it’s become one of those words that has taken a life of its own and people have been accepting it as fact. Kinda like how that ice cream is actually called “sherbet” not “sherbert” but you know zero people that say “sherbet.”
Still don’t believe me? I knew you wouldn’t so I reached out to some local brewers that make the beers you’re describing.
“I would say 3-5 years ago the word adjunct was definitely something associated with macro beers and was a ‘faux pas.’ Adjuncts are not just corn and rice. Whether it’s brewers trying to save some money, help with lighter beers or even adding dextrose for dryness and attenuation, adjuncts definitely have their role today. These additions can also help the body and head retention of your favorite stouts and IPA’s. Belgian breweries have been using dextrose and candy sugar forever and even brewers such as Russian River have said they use dextrose. Like all the things I just listed, adjuncts are fermentables, so things like coffee, chocolate and vanilla are ‘flavorings’ or ‘spices’ depending on what they are and by definition are not adjuncts at all.”
“I think for a lot of craft drinkers, adjunct implies lower quality. We hounded on BMC (Budweiser Miller Coors) about using adjuncts like rice and corn but in some styles, adjuncts are a part of the beer. You can’t have a cream ale without corn. Most of the time, adjuncts are there to support flavor, color or body. By definition, adjuncts are anything that’s going to be fermented. If you’re adding coffee or vanilla, you’re generally doing so post-fermentation. It wouldn’t do a whole lot of good to add chocolate to the tank and have the yeast eat all the flavor you’re looking for. In the brewing world, none of those things are considered adjuncts.”
Okay, so what do I call those things, then?
To be honest, there’s no overarching default for these. If it’s a spice or an herb, call it a spice or an herb (coffee beers according to the BJCP would fall into the “Spiced Beer” category). Some people use the term “flavorings” or “additions” for these as more of a catchall as well.
While all of the above is true and insightful, I think Justin from Exit 6 summed it up best when he said, “All in all, you can call that shit whatever you want as long as you’re drinking craft beer.”
Additional Reading on Adjuncts:
Brew Your Own: https://byo.com/mead/item/94-adjuncts-explained