Experimenting with New Flavor: Brewing a Japanese Dry Rice Lager
What started as a creative whim between brewers and pals turned into one of our award-winning beers — something that we are quite frankly still shocked about.
Meet Hi-Wire Brewing’s Japanese Dry Rice Lager. It’s thirst-quenching, exotic, and if we had to guess, probably very different from any other beer you’ve ever tasted. But we made it to be that way — a totally new flavor experience.
What is a Japanese Rice Lager?
Here at Hi-Wire Brewing, we’re not ones to stray away from a chance at being creative, rather we jump right in and embrace it. And this beer is a perfect example.
The name of our delicious brew tells you the gist of what you need to know, and that is that it’s made with heavy amounts of rice. For our Japanese Dry Rice Lager, we use a whopping 49% rice and 51% malted barley.
Why rice? Well, it provides fermentable sugars for the yeasts that produce alcohol. Rice also adds crispness and a subtle sweetness to round out the beer.
Traditionally speaking, Japanese Rice Lagers are light bodied, light in color, and have a dry finish. So if you’re looking for a light, cool beer to sip on during the warmth of summer with a little exotic flare, this beer is one you’ll want to grab.
Breaking Down the Flavors in Our Japanese Dry Rice Lager
Our secret weapon (the ace up our sleeve if you will) for flavor comes from a special ingredient we use called koji. It’s a fungus, and while that may stop you in your tracks, it’s actually an integral part to the production of some of the world’s culinary favorites like sake and soy sauce. So if you like dipping your sushi in soy sauce, or dumping heaps of it into your stir fry, you’ve tasted the deliciousness of koji (even if you didn’t know it.)
When it comes to brewing beer, this flavor enhancing ingredient is somewhat of a novice, but as we said before, we relish the chance to be creative, so we decided to do a little experimenting.
We used koji, in a collaboration with our friends over at Ben’s American Sake, to ferment our Japanese Dry Rice Lager on. This tiny microorganism breaks down starches into sugars and eats everything that brewer’s yeast doesn’t, meaning it breaks down large sugars that yeast isn’t capable of fermenting into smaller sugars that it is capable of fermenting. All of the sugars then get broken down into something brewers yeast can work with, so there’s no starch left when the beer starts fermenting.
What’s the point of koji, then? It’s true that it doesn’t actually ferment anything, but what it does do is act as an important catalyst for reactions and makes it possible for brewers yeast to ferment. It’s the real MVP.
But let’s talk about koji’s big talent — creating flavor. It adds coconut and tropical orange flavors along with that sensational umami flavor (“essence of deliciousness” in Japanese), so if you try our Japanese Dry Rice Lager, you’ll feel like you’re having a drink on the beach in the tropics.
If you ask our head brewer Peter Batinski about koji, he’ll tell you that, “Koji itself creates a wider range of flavors than I’ve ever tasted before in any other beer.” So yeah, we’re big fans.
Hi-Wire Brewing & Ben’s American Sake: An Unlikely Pairing
Patrick Shearer, head brewer at Ben’s American Sake, and our very own, Peter Batinski, have been best friends for years. And as brewers, getting to do cool experiments with flavors and ingredients comes with the territory. The genius duo have been experimenting not just with unique flavor ingredients but with the foundational elements of brewing — fermenters and fermentables. And since koji is still somewhat of a mystery in American craft beer, these two have experienced some highs and lows as they’ve played with the traditional Japanese ingredient.
It’s actually by a stroke of luck that this beer even turned out well based on how the brewing process went. Peter will be the first to tell you that the brew day was somewhat of a disaster.
Basically, a whole bunch of things went wrong. Rice, when it’s brewed, can turn into a concrete brick if you’re not careful, even when you’re only using 25% rice, so we had some issues with consistency. Then there were some issues with our mash pH that we had to figure out on the spot. Suffice it to say, our brew team kept getting hit with curveball after curveball. But after various adjustments to the beer, this baby brewed in the tank for 2 weeks and when we tried it… it was amazing.
An Award-Winning Japanese Rice Lager that Hailed from Zero Expectations
We love the triumphant story of the Japanese Dry Rice Lager — rising from the low of potentially being a flop to then WINNING an award.
Our Japanese Dry Rice Lager earned gold hardware at the 2021 Great American Beer Festival in the Experimental Beer category. It has joined a club of some pretty sensational winners — an Arnold Palmer-inspired Berliner Weisse and a Sour Rye Saison aged on Prickly Pear Cactus. As you can see, we’re in good company.
Our creative group of brewers isn’t stopping here either. The brew team has made a koji quad (with sake yeast and koji) with plans to release a bourbon barrel aged koji quad and a koji pale ale too. Get ready to be blown away by some awesome flavors and stellar beers coming soon!
We want to close out this blog by saying a very special thank you to Patrick and the team at Ben’s American Sake, because none of this would have been possible without their expertise and collaboration. If you’ve never had their sake, be sure to check them out!
Grab a Glass of Hi-Wire Brewing’s Japanese Dry Rice Lager
If you’re feeling curious to try something new and exciting, we hope you’ll swing by one of our taprooms to grab a glass of our Japanese Dry Rice Lager. We’ve brewed it to be super approachable and easy drinking for anyone to enjoy. We know it’s different, but we’re just asking for you to give it a try! Chances are, you’re going to love it.