When it comes to whiskey, rye is on the rise. Twirled-mustache barkeeps and bent-elbow bargoers are rediscovering the classic American spirit that packs a peppery complexity and crisp, drying character. It can be the difference-maker between a cloying, bourbon-sweet Manhattan and one that zings across your palate.
But rye is not a grain that’s exclusive to whiskey and bread that go great with corned beef and a mustard smear. Lately, craft brewers have begun cottoning to the grain, which can add complexity, sharpness, subtle spiciness and dryness to beer styles ranging from hop-bomb IPAs to cocoa-scented porters to curiosities like Dogfish Head’s Sah’Tea: a take on a classic Finnish farmhouse ale that’s made with no hops, juniper berries, white-hot rocks and, oh yeah, plenty of rye.
With brewing, it’s helpful to think of rye as a supporting actor, with top billing reserved for barley malts. That’s because barley contains husks, which keep the mash (the grains steeped in boiling water) loose and permits drainage of the wort—the broth that becomes beer.
By contrast, rye is husk-less and, like a sponge, sops up water. Compounding matters, rye can create a sticky, viscous mash. But adding enzymes or rice hulls, which make the mash fluffy without altering flavor, allows rye to work its spicy, thirst-quenching magic. Thirsty yet? Here are five rye-driven beers worth your stomach space.
1. Bear Republic Brewing: Hop Rod Rye
Rev your engines with this deeply amber ale with a thick, tan head and lacing as sticky as cotton candy. The hard-charging hoppy, floral aroma—citrus, pine—contains hints of caramel and spice. Taste-wise, a sweet-spicy profile and an earthy finish balance the bitterness out.
2. Terrapin Beer: Rye Pale Ale
The Georgia brewery’s flagship decants a handsome honey-orange, offering an aroma of toasted malts spritzed with citrus. On first sip, the medium-boded brew presents a floral, herbal bitterness, which is tempered by sweet malt and cactus-prickly rye.
3. Arcadia: Sky High Rye
The unfiltered American pale ale pours a golden sunrise, releasing a brilliant perfume of fresh-squeezed citrus and cut pine needles. Though the aroma reads as an IPA, the floral profile is grounded by sweet malt, and the rye provides rogue notes of white pepper.
4. The Bruery: Rugbrød
Translating to “rye bread” in Danish, the ruddy-brown ale smells of earth and brown sugar, cocoa and rye. The slick ale slides down semisweet and nutty, with some sourness and a bit of bread. It ends positively peppery.
5. Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel: Route Des Épices
Made in Montreal, this cloudy, dark-brown curiosity smells sweet, with hints of dark fruit, chocolate and pepper courtesy of loads of green and black peppercorns. Route initially tastes caramel-sweet, before the hot, spicy pepper notes lead to a dry finish.
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