With autumn just two weeks away, it’s a good time to start exploring the darker side of beer. It's finally time to ready our tastebuds for the onslaught of overly spiced seasonals and winter malt bombs in the months ahead.
You may already have experienced rye in whiskey form or maybe through a cocktail like a Manhattan or a Vieux Carré. If you prefer rye’s spicy qualities to traditional barley malt you’re in luck, because that same flavor profile can be developed by adding rye to beer! In fact, rye was a traditional ingredient in German Roggenbier, popular prior to the Reinheitsgebot (darn that Reinheitsgebot). It’s used traditionally in Eastern European beer styles like Finnish Sahti and Russian Kvass, but today rye has found a home in many styles from IPAs to lagers and stouts. Here are 5 to check out.
- The Bruery: Sour in the Rye
Well-known for their mastery of rye and sour beers, The Bruery’s Sour in the Rye, a rye ale aged in oak barrels, stands out as a masterful combination of the two unique styles. It’s quite sour, with hints of cherries and citrus but it’s also spicy and extremely well-balanced. Though it’s pricy and only available in 750ml bottles, it’s a treat for fans of either style and a great one to share with friends.
- Founders Brewing Company: Red’s Rye IPA
Even though they switched to four packs this year, down from sixers in the past, the good news is this impressive rye IPA (rye-P-A?) is now available on draft year-round. It's a single-hop beer featuring an impressive 70 IBUs of Amarillo hops. It’s spicy, grapefruity and full of bready caramel malt. Not just one of the best rye IPAs, but one of the best IPAs in the country.
- Night Shift Brewing: Viva Habanera
Rye beers tend to let the spiciness from the rye do the work, but Night Shift’s Viva Habanera kicks that up several notches with the addition of habanero peppers. As you might expect, this one is a burner but not so much that the beer is a wash from being too hot. There is still a lot of agave, sweet fruit, graininess and rye bread flavor that makes this one a winner.
- Firestone Walker Brewing Company: Wookey Jack Black Rye IPA
If there’s a second in line for the black IPA throne, Wookey Jack from Firestone Walker out of Paso Robles, CA is it. Not quite as aggressively hopped as their other “Jack” offerings, at 8.3% ABV and 60 IBUs, this Wookey still packs a gnarly punch. Sweet roasty malt balances coffee notes and spiciness from the rye. It’s even a bit smoky, but this amazing ale is all about the big grapefruit, orange and pineapple flavors from massive citrus hops. It’s hard to imagine these flavors coming from an IPA so dark, and it’s astoundingly tasty.
Against the Grain Brewery: Kentucky Ryed Chiquen
Any beer named Chiquen, especially when the bottle's covered in feathers, is probably worth investigating. And when it’s from Louisville, KY’s Against The Grain Brewery, you can be sure that it’s a lot more than just funky marketing. This whiskey barrel-aged amber ale has a ton of rye malts from both the U.K. and Germany. You'll taste oak and vanilla from the barrel, the signature spicy rye flavors and a light hoppiness. While this beer could have been a clucken mess, it turned out to be a feast.
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