Can’t We Just Admit We Like Corn Sometimes?

One of the things I don’t get about beer lovers is the seething disrespect of corn – aka maize for some of you. OK, maybe not seething but my comment the other day that I now craved New Glarus Spotted Cow was met with particular surprise by Jeffery Glazer of Wisconsin’s Madison Beer Review who wrote to say that “Spotted Cow is good, but to drive halfway across the country for it? I’d be really curious to hear what was said about it to cause such a reaction.” In response I wrote:

It’s the king o’corn, baby! I like the ur-cream ale Genesee Cream but I also like cream corn, corn chowder, corn on the cob and corn chips. I think the taste of corn gets a bum steer as far as corn and beer goes. Why praise other grains yet diss the maize? I have grown corn, have watched it grow and, I have to admit, admire it privately. Stan brought the Spotted Cow (as well as a few other New Glarus) and this corntastic beer made me love it. It is clean, has the raw chew-the-cob sweetness and is also balanced and without a tinge of chemical, the hallmark of modern corn-y brew…Did I mention it comes with corn?

I asked Stan when we were sipping his giftie if it had flaked corn and he thought maybe it was just corn sugar but was not in the know. I would be surprised if there is that much unfermentable corn in it from just a powder. Nonetheless, I am here to bear witness, bretheren and the real lesson here is that cream ale like Spotted Cow is corn ale and cream ale should be great! It is just a style, after all. Corn is, folks, and corn should be more than the flakes in your breakfast bowl. As I mentioned, I understand that there are two ways to get corn into beer. The most common is through glucose or corn sugar which is derided as an adjunct gone mad in American macro lagers but praised in Belgian tripels when, as I learned from Al Korzonas in his useful Homebrewing, Volume 1, simply combined with a little fructose to make candi sugar. This sort of addition of corn gets you a little more alcohol and a little less body but not much flavour – and certainly not the creamed corny goodness that is at the heart of Spotted Cow. Flaked maize is more like rolled barley or oats, a raw grain product that leaves plenty of unfermentables to add flavour. That is what I think I am tasting in that brew.

Maybe you know more than me but where are the rest of the corny adjuncts – the malted corn, the roasted corn or the crystal corn that some agronomist or another sort of lab-coated egghead should have developed by now? Surely a grain as versatile as corn could be subject to more treatments that might make for some other great beers. Surely there is a Department of Cornology in some Midwest US state working on coaxing more flavours from the humble yellow kernal. As far as may daydreams of future beer goes, I would think that the residual sweetness of corn could work in a roasty stout. The huskineess of a dried cob might also work when blended with a little rye malt. And Jeffery pointed out that it would also fit with the local and sustainable trends we are seeing becoming more and more important.

If corn can make a fine whiskey, why not a beer? And are there other fine corn beers out there, some modern chichas, that I do not know about?

One thought on “Can’t We Just Admit We Like Corn Sometimes?”

  1. [Original comments…]

    Stan Hieronymus – July 25, 2008 9:22 AM
    Hi Alan,

    It is corn sugar. The New Glarus brewery is not designed to mash with corn (like big breweries or like homebrewers can do on a small scale – also made with two row rather than six row).

    I do drive half way across the country to drink Wisconsin beers in Wisconsin, something everybody should do once in a while because it is good for the spirit. That includes New Glarus in the village of New Glarus. Spotted Cow is an essential part of that experience.

    As brewer Dan Carey put it, the beer is “a little bit fruity, a little sweet.” A lot for a beer geek to pick at, but a beer people enjoy drinking.

    Alan – July 25, 2008 9:28 AM
    You saw my face, Stan. Maybe you didn’t see all the joy but there is a lot there to like and others shouldn’t be persnickity about corn.

    I drive for beer, too. There needs to be a club about that as well.

    McChowder – July 25, 2008 3:00 PM
    Corn is, folks, and corn should be more than the flakes in your breakfast bowl

    It already *is* way more than just brekfast cereal. Corn is in practically everything. There was a report recently of how increased corn prices were driving up feed for catfish. Our catfish eat corn!

    In the US, corn isn’t usually seen as the enemy of all that is local and sustainable.

    Frank – July 25, 2008 3:25 PM
    I had kukuřičné pivo (corn beer) at the Pivovarský Dvůr Chýně (don’t ask me to pronounce any of that) just outside of Prague on my recent trip there . It is a very nice beer!
    My Czech is limited to saying hello and ordering a beer, so I couldn’t ask how much corn is used in the making of it, or how it was made, but the resulting beer is excellent.

    Alan – July 25, 2008 4:05 PM
    Here’s a blog post by the Pivni Filosof himself about Pivovarský Dvůr Chýně. Evan’s book does not mention the kukuřičné pivo but the post describes it as one of their speciality brews – either meaning a seasonal or one they make that few others do.

    Boak – July 25, 2008 6:36 PM
    Flaked maize is a key ingredient in a fair few famous British ales. Why should some grains be cool (wheat, rye, spelt) and others not (corn, rice)? Sure, if you’re using it to cut costs, chances are you’re not brewing anything nice. But all of these adjuncts add interesting elements to the beer, if done right.

    Pivní Filosof – July 26, 2008 4:46 AM
    I had kukuřičné pivo last year at Chýně, I liked it a lot. It was a very nice summer drink. They don’t brew it regularly, it is one of their many specialities like zazvorové (ginger) or kouřované (smoked). All of them pretty good.
    BTW, agree 100% with the post. Recently I had a couple of Spanish beers from Alhambra, their R1925 and their Mezquita. Both very good, specially the latter, and both with a corn adjunct. Though, it must be mentioned that the original recipe of R1925 didn’t include maize.
    Speaking to a brew master some time ago I mentioned rice and he said, “what’s the problem with that?”.
    I think that good beer can be brewed using pretty much anything, as long as it is the intention of the brewer to make something different and not to cut corners (as many big ones do). I’ve had buckwheat beer, potatoe beer and pumpkin beer and they were all really interesting.

    Alan – July 26, 2008 9:51 AM
    Potato beer! I have had good potato moonshine in Canada’s eastern province of PEI, a real cultural touchstone out there. But never beer.

    Pivní Filosof – July 27, 2008 5:44 AM
    Pivovarský Klub brewed a small batch last year. According to them, based on a recipe from 1625. It had 12Kg of potatoes and 4kg of barley malt. Very interesting and nice beer. I hope they brew it again some day.

    Ethan – July 27, 2008 10:15 PM
    Corn and rice are derided principally due to their association with The Big however-many-it is-now Breweries. But both can and should be used in craft brewing, and in home brewing, too. I bought a pound of some weird black specialty rice from my local co-op about 2 weeks ago, and I intend to use it in a homebrew. I know I need to do a separate cereal mash on it, it’ll be fun. I’d like to try using some interesting corn varieties, too.

    Because corn, and rice, most certainly are.

    Paul of Kingston – July 28, 2008 1:03 PM
    But what does the Bavarian Purety Law say on the subject of rice?

    Not that I am a follower of rules but it would be interesting to know.

    If only there was someone with legal training and a penchant for beer out there!

    Pivní Filosof – July 30, 2008 8:02 AM
    Is there a Peruvian purity law? As far as I know, some Peruvian beers are brewed with corn, etc.

    Ivan Downes – June 19, 2009 4:00 PM
    Can anyone help me I was recently in Lehsoto and was given some local beer. I am not sure whether it was maize or sorghum beer but any information on brewing the stuff would be most gratefully reeived.I found the appearance of it offputting but the taste was excellent and I would like to try brewing it myself so far I have drawn a blank looking for instructions. I have never brewed anything before other than tea so am a complete novice. Ivan Downes
    Nottingham .U.K

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