It's no secret that some of the nation's largest breweries use rice in making their beer. In fact, commercial forms of rice as an additive date back well before Prohibition. However, the use of native or wild varieties of rice as an ingredient in beer is much less common. In the upper Midwest, where wild rice grows both naturally and in farm paddies, it was inevitable that a local brewery would develop a wild rice-based brew.
After being out of the beer lineup for a few years, our own Capital Brewery of Middleton has a proven recipe that is returning to area beer shelves this summer. Wild Rice lager took a few years off, but it's out again now, and it's well worth picking up a six-pack over the next few weeks.
What is it? Wild Rice from Capital Brewery of Middleton.
Style: Wild Rice lager is not really a "style" of beer. However, since the early 19th century, commercial rice has been an adjunct in a number of big brewery brews. Rice is a fermentable grain that supplements main ingredients like barley. It contributes to a lighter-body beer that is clean in flavor and generally less expensive. That's especially important to the big breweries, which reduce the amount of barley in exchange for rice. Beers made with wild rice, however, are less common and generally found in the Midwest. However, even across Wisconsin and Minnesota, you'll find only a handful of such beers.
Background: Capital's Wild Rice just appeared on local store shelves. It''s a beer that the Middleton-based brewery hasn't made since 2005. In addition to wild rice, it's made with Brewer's and Vienna malts. While you'll find some hoppy bitterness, it's a beer that emphasizes its smooth malty and nutty side.
"I didn't want anything to get in the way of the rice flavor when I made this beer," explains brewmaster Kirby Nelson. "It's not a powerful beer, just clean, with a firm maltiness and light nutty sweetness," he adds.
The Verdict: While I really enjoy the color and flavor balance of Wild Rice, with its slight nutty background, perhaps I like most of all because it's unconventional. And since Kirby Nelson makes this beer only every so often (translation: when he feels like it), I look forward to its appearance with heightened anticipation.