Friday, March 23, 2012

Beer of the Week (Vol. CXXXIX)

Another edition of Beer of the Week sponsored as always by the hearty folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can help you find the wine, whiskey, and beer that goes with your grain.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal explained how we’re in The Rye Time for a New Beer Style:

THE RYE REVIVAL IS HERE. Bakers are returning to the hearty grain for rich, dark breads. Cocktail heads demand rye whiskey in their Manhattans. And now, a growing band of brewers is turning to the complex, earthy spice of rye for a new take on the strong flavors craft-beer drinkers have grown to love.

Rye whiskey may be old—America's first, they say, was distilled at Mount Vernon in the 1790s—but rye beer, at least in this country, is a new idea. In the European rye belt, above the 50th parallel, give or take, where the rugged grass flourishes, rye beers are more common. Germany has its roggenbier (imagine a muskier hefeweizen); Russia has weak, beer-like kvass, made from stale rye bread (look for it peddled in soda bottles in Russian enclaves like Brooklyn's Brighton Beach).

We don't have such history here. In American brewing's early days, a barrel of whiskey brought more at market than the same of beer, so for farmers liquefying their assets, so to speak, stronger stuff made more sense. Plus, as any baker knows, rye makes a soupy dough. The grain has no husk, unlike barley, and it has plenty of oily proteins. It's a chore to brew. Bear Republic's Hop Rod Rye takes about a quarter more time to make than their other beers. "It's a labor of love," said the company's head brewer Peter Kruger.

Thankfully, a little rye goes a long way. Nutty and spicy, with undertones of light but juicy fruit—some taste apples, or even Calvados—rye works best as an accent, a dash of spice to add kick to standard styles. Great Divide uses it to punch up a classic German märzen. Upright's Six and the Bruery's Rugbrød are brown-bread dark. Jolly Pumpkin used rye to give a tannic bite to a Belgian tripel; Devil's Canyon dosed a saison.

But more often, rye hones the edge of hoppy IPAs. So-called "rye-p-a-s" are a burgeoning category. Bear Republic's brewers thought up Hop Rod Rye over post-work shots of Wild Turkey Rye. It was one of the first of its kind when it came out in 2000—rye beer wasn't even an official category yet at the Great American Beer Festival, the country's major beer competition. "We were going off the grid," said Mr. Kruger. Now beer store shelves are stocked with rye beers, and their all-too-easy puns (Bear Republic's Ryevalry comes out this fall), as this stalwart grain, makes a new tradition of its own.

The article also featured five rye beers as examples of the style:

Great Divide Hoss Rye Lager
Founder’s Red Rye PA
Bridgeport Kingpin Double Red Ale
Bear Republic’s Hot Rod Rye
Sierra Nevada’s Ruthless Rye IPA

I’ve long been a fan of rye beers as has my better half. She still mourns the demise of Red Hook Rye. I’ve had the pleasure of drinking the Great Divide, Founder’s, and Bear Republic’s rye offering and have enjoyed them all. Sierra Nevada’s rye beer is new to the market and is available for a limited time as a spring seasonal. And it’s the beer of the week. Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye:

Rye has been a staple grain for millennia—sought after for its stubborn resilience in the field and revered for its unique flavor. Ruthless Rye IPA is brewed with rustic grains for refined flavors—combining the peppery spice of rye and the bright citrusy flavors of whole-cone hops to create a complex ale for the tumultuous transition to spring.

12oz stubby brown bottle. Label follows usual Sierra Nevada design and features a rather ruthless looking reaper in a field of the namesake grain.

STYLE: Rye Ale


COLOR (0-2): Copper brown, mostly clear. 2

AROMA (0-2): Grassy hops and spicy rye. 2

HEAD (0-2): Tan color, good volume, excellent lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): Piney hops with some citrus and roasted malt. You can definitely can pick out the the rye which has peppery, spicy overtones and comes on at the end. Clean, sharp finish. Medium bodied with a thinner mouthfeel. Fairly well carbonated and drinkable. 4

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Lingering bitterness. 2

OVERALL (0-6): Another well-made and well-balanced beer from Sierra Nevada. The hops, malts, and rye play well together and combine to produce deep and delicious flavors. If you like rye beer, you’ll love Ruthless Rye. If you haven’t tried rye beers in the past, this is a great one to start with. Get it while as it won’t be available in stores much longer. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 16