• By The Financial District


American craft brewers are taking to rice as ducks to water, shunning the age-old stigma of the grain as a low caliber ingredient for beer and learning the technology to make their brews lighter, much pleasing to the palate.

Reporting for the US trade publication Modern Farmer, LIndsay Campbell said many of those who made a bet on rice are now making crisp, light, dry beers that are something of a reincarnation of Japanese lager on American soil.

In Winters, California, Berryessa Brewing Co. brewmaster and co-founder Chris Miller had the idea in 2014 to put his own spin on an Asahi lager or Sapporo. The clean, dry taste of a Japanese beer, Miller says, was something he felt was missing at his brewery and he hadn’t seen anyone else in the region take a stab at it.

“Rice grows everywhere around here, so I thought it would be a good idea to make a rice lager that’s indigenous to us,” he says.

“I know there’s a bit of a stigma, but local rice is a great ingredient. What it comes down to is how you use it.” Miller’s lager, Free Kittens, is made up of 25 percent puffed Jasmine rice from Midwest farms and has been a bestseller for the brewery.

Neil Reid, a professor of geography and planning at the University of Toledo, known colloquially as the “beer professor,” says there has been a larger trend of craft beer drinkers preferring brews with lower alcohol content and rice lagers fall into that category.

He says the rise of rice-based lagers seems like a micro trend that is primarily concentrated in larger cities and coastal communities.

Reid believes that for them to take off as popular brews, companies will have to navigate negative attitudes that still remain around using rice.

“One thing craft brewers are really good at is telling stories about their beer and I think what it will come down to is breweries educating the consumer about what rice beer is, why they used [rice], where they drew their inspiration from,” he says. “I think once people taste it, they’ll realize it’s really quite nice.”