Beer 101 - American Adjunct Lager

Beer 101

American Adjunct lager is the best selling style of beer in the nation, and encompasses all of the giant brands: Budweiser, Miller, Coors, Pabst, etc. There are three general categories that American-style  lagers fall into: Light lagers, standard lagers, and premium lagers. All of these have a significant amount of adjuncts in them, generally rice, corn or maize, and are all descended from the pre-prohibition American lager, though they may not taste much like beers from that era. The short history goes thusly: The pilsner was the ubiquitous international style by the late 1700s, but in pre-prohibition America, six-row barley was much more available and much cheaper than two-row barley, largely because six-row was produced in the U.S., while two-row had to be imported. Six-row barley, though, produced a much more husky, grainy character than its cousin from across the pond, and therefore made the brewing of the light, refreshing pilsner difficult. The solution? Like so many other countries throughout history, Americans worked with what was available, and used rice, corn or maize to lighten and soften the characteristics of the beer. Even so, pre-prohibition lagers were often significantly more flavorful than today's light lagers, as today's beers have undergone decades of refinement in order to maximize the broadest of appeal, and focus entirely on refreshment and drinkability rather than on bold flavor characteristics.

Light lagers are the lightest of this family in alcohol content, color, aroma, and taste. These can range from Bud Select 55, the lightest currently available beer, all the way to Yuengling Light, which is one of the most flavorful light adjunct lagers on the market today. Some of the very light examples, however, are much better for refreshment than alcohol's more endearing properties, as some of them only clock in around 2.5% ABV. They use up to 40% adjuncts in the malt bill and just enough hops for balance, giving them as unoffensive and refreshing a flavor profile as possible. This style includes Miller Lite, Bud Light, Bud Select, Coors Light, Michelob Ultra, etc.

Standard lagers also use up to 40% adjuncts, and are generally almost identical in ingredients to light lagers, just “more of it.” They tend to be a light golden color rather than pale straw, and often have distinctive flavor characteristics depending on the adjunct and hops used: Budweiser uses rice, while Miller High Life uses corn. Examples of this style are Budweiser, Miller High Life, Coors Banquet, Pabst Blue Ribbon, etc.

The premium lager category is an adjunct lager with less adjunct used, generally around 25% of the malt bill. These can be higher in hop aroma and flavor and tend to be slightly more distinctive in flavor brand to brand. This category includes Stella Artois, Heineken, Corona, Miller Genuine Draft, etc.