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Soapbox Article 7: List Those Ingredients

Soapbox Ingredients

Many of you read BeerTengoku whilst drinking a beer or few, perhaps in your local or on the train home. I know that when I’m writing a beer review, I’m often drinking the beer I’m reviewing at the time, or a second beer that is being used to keep the writing mind lubricated and flowing. But put that beer down for a minute and take a look at the side of the can where it says ingredient. What does it say? Barley (大麦 – オオムギ – oomugi), malt (麦芽 – バクガ – bakuga), hops (ホップ – hoppu), yeast (酵母 – コウボ – koubo), and water(水 – ミズ – mizu). Maybe there’s some adjuncts thrown in there as well, such as orange, yuzu, coriander, or maybe some chocolate too.

Three beers of recent: Ginga Kogen Soyokaze Kolsch, Songbird Remains of the Day, and also Nide Monster C-IPA have borne the brunt of this anger in their reviews. Why spend all this time coming up with a recipe for a beer, only to put the most basic of information about it on the can or online for people to read about? Admittedly, not everyone is interested in what goes into their beer. Maybe that’s enough for people to know but for BeerTengoku, it isn’t. And it’s annoying and makes us angry.

Soapbox Ingredients

Photo courtesy of Smithsonian magazine.

Why did these beers stand out from any other beer on the market? If you read the ingredients on the label to these three beers, they all said the same thing – barley, malt, hops, and yeast. Yet they are three different styles of beers with, from my knowledge, very different amounts of ingredients and brewing processes? Why not educate the craft beer drinker with details, rather than eschewing any further education or improvement of the understanding of craft beer in Japan? Imagine buying three sandwiches that have “bread, butter, meat” as the ingredients. First off, no one in their right mind would buy a sandwich that just said “meat” on it. But continuing the analogy, a “meat” sandwich could be tuna, ham, chicken, roast beef, venison. So why settle for just “barley, hops, and water”.

Let’s take a step back and look at the idea of beer. Beer is generally split into two types: lager or ales. For most people, the difference is simply down to appearance, smell, and taste. Ales tend to be fruit with esters, while lagers tend to be crisp and dry. Yet there is a greater difference between the two than just that. Lagers use an entirely different kind of yeast than ales do – can you see where this leading?

All of the flavours you get from beer – from different aromas and flavours based on fermentation temperature – is because of yeast. Why do you get the banana and cloves from a weizen? The yeast. Fruity ales? Yeast. Crisp, dry lager? You guessed it. Yeast. Different yeasts have different qualities and properties that can change the flavour of a beer. Swan Lake Belgian IPA? IPA base but fermented with Belgian yeast. What kind of yeast? Who knows! Two of the main manufacturers of yeasts to breweries are White Labs and Wyeast, who between them produce over 200 kinds of yeast for breweries to use, all with different purposes and outcomes.

Of course, we jumped over so many variables before the yeast gets added – first of all we should think about the malts. Malt is made from barley, wheat, rye, oats, or rice that has been germinated – which means the barley has been immersed in water and allowed the grains to sprout, kind of like a young beansprout, but then quickly dried to stop the sprouts from growing too much. This allows the enzymes to change the sugars inside and better prepare them for the mashing process and developing the wort. Still with us? So when you see malt on the side of the can, what has been used in the beer?

Soapbox 7 Ingredients Baird Beer

See? It’s not that hard to list your ingredients is it?

Moreover, barley malt can also be roasted to produce different kinds of specialised malts. Crystal malts for example are stewed but the moisture is not allowed to escape, thus breaking down the sugars even more. These malts are then kilned, which dries the malt and changes the colour of the malts and caramalises the sugars inside. These crystal malts can be used to add sweetness, often in the form of caramel, to the beer. There are many more kind of malts available: roasted chocolate, black patent, chocolate malt just to name a few. Why can’t breweries add this on the side of the can, or online like Baird Beer do with all of their recipes?

Hops – the flavour enhancers that give you the citrus punch you want, or maybe some bitter bite perhaps for your IPA? Maybe you like some noble hops with your German hefeweizens? Even your imperial stout at 10% has hops in to take some of the sweet edge away. Hops are can be used in dry-hopping, where the hops are placed into the fermentation tank to bring out the aroma in the hops, while depending on which hops and how the hops are used in the boil can either impart bitterness or aroma or both. Which hops are in your beer and what were they used for? Surely you’d like to know so why can’t breweries list them? At the last count, there were over 100 different kinds of hops being used, and more in development and being used in beers, such as the Shonan IPA HBC 342.

Soapbox Ingredients Water Profile

The last step before you go full craft beer expert – water profiles.

Last, but not least, water. Without water, there wouldn’t be beer and water can make or break a brewery. Burton-on-Trent, a major location for breweries in the 19th century, is famed among breweries for its water. Why? Because it’s naturally hard water, which means it contains a high amount of minerals in it. Burton water has the highest calcium content of any major brewing region, the highest magnesium, and low levels of sodium and bicarbonate. Burton-on-Trent is well-known for being the origins of the famed IPA, with its high mineral content bringing out the best in the hop flavours and bitterness. Brewers often try to imitate the water by adding minerals to the water in the hope of imitating it or coming close. Surely you’d want to know if breweries had added things, or removed things, from the water?

If you’ve still got the can or bottle of beer you’re drinking, wouldn’t you like to know what goes into your beer now? If food and drink companies have to do it with their produce and drinks, why can’t breweries in Japan do it as well? American companies, such as Modern Times, list everything on their cans and bottles. Brewdog, a company guaranteed to divide craft beer fans, gave away a huge recipe book of their beers that can be found here – why can’t Japanese craft beer breweries list their ingredients too? Educate the drinkers!

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Comments 6

  1. Overkill here, i think.
    Main ingredients are perhaps listed for legal reasons, not educational. Most people don’t care what’s in the beer, as long as its affordable and tastes good (according to them).
    Personally, i feel the label is where extra info can be put like hop varieties or malt comments. No brewer is gonna put his recipe in the label. Its overkill and no one really cares, to be honest. I can usually guess what’s in there or at least i used to be able to do that. I think a good place for geeks to get that extra info can be the brewers’ facebook pages or website.

  2. Perhaps a listing of somewhere would be helpful – maybe not on the bottle but at least somewhere. The recipe idea was just an example of one way to list the ingredients.

  3. Many beer bars are guilty of this as well. A good example would be the Stone x HUB Sticks and Stones awhile back at Hopscotch. They had it listed as a Black IPA on the menu—great, love ’em, so ordered one. Took the first sip and recoiled—tasted like a cigar box. I’m not the biggest fan of barrel-aged beers, and especially hate the taste of cedar, and the beer was obviously aged on cedar or had cedar chunks added during brewing. Anyway, said nothing about it on the menu, and there’s no way I’d have ordered it had I known. Have seen the same thing at many beer bars. I don’t need an exact breakdown of hop varieties and yeast strains, but adjuncts, especially odd ones, yes.

  4. As Christopher Phillips pointed out, the last sentence in this soapbox is “Educate the d”. Very cryptic. What could the ‘d’ stand for? Drinker? Damned public? The world wants to know.

    1. It’s a mystery! I like to think it stands for “dick”. Educate the dick. Right, Rob?

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