Most dedicated craft beer fans know what it takes to make beer. Barley, hops, water and yeast, mix it all together and voila, beer! Well, aside from the obvious point - that there is much more to it than that – the thing a lot of people don't realize is that barley isn't the be-all, end-all of brewing grains. Sure, Barley is the most commonly used grain when it comes to making beer, but other grains can bring lots of complex and interesting flavors to your beer.
When it comes to non-barley grains, I’m a big fan of rye, and I'm fixing to tell you why,
When brewing with rye, you can go one of two ways. Many brewers like to use a small portion of rye in the grain bill to add a subtle spiciness and dryness to their beers. In this case, the rye is more of a background note, working in concert with the rest of the grain bill to create a crisper and more refreshing flavor.
The other approach is to go whole hog and make what the Germans call a Roggenbier. Roggenbier is made with 50 percent or more rye in the grain bill, so the rye becomes much less a background player and takes center stage as the star of the show. Traditional Roggenbiers are usually darker in color, and can be likened to a Dunkelweizen, except with rye instead of wheat. The color is usually on brown side of things, an the flavors present with a pleasant spiciness with varying yeast characteristics, depending on whether it was fermented with a hefeweizen yeast or a cleaner fermenting ale yeast.
While Roggenbier is a distinctly German creation, it has recently found a home in the Greater Bangor Area. Mason’s Brewing Company has been producing a Roggenbier since they first opened their doors, and it has been one of their better sellers in this first year of production.
Mason’s is using upwards of 60 percent rye in their Roggenbier, which can make for a tricky brew day. Rye malt is known to be difficult to work with due to its high protein content and lack of a husk, but Mason’s uses a few proprietary techniques in the brewhouse to make the process go a bit smoother. Rye might be tough to work with in the mash tun, but the hard work is rewarded when you take a sip of the spicy, crisp and velvety beer it produces.
Mason’s owner Chris Morley noted that they also produce a Rye Pale Ale, and while this one doesn’t use the 60 percent-plus rye of the Roggenbier, a lesser addition (in the 30 percent range) brings a clean, crisp finish to the beer that makes it a favorite among new converts to craft beer.
So, if you are a beer drinker or a home brewer looking for something new and different, drop the hops and land plain in the grains! Add some rye to your recipes and look for rye beers on tap at your local watering hole. Prost!
PS: We are brewing our 70 percent rye malt roggenbier, Stryeation, at Gneiss this week – that’s part of why I have rye on the brain. Look for bottles and kegs sometime mid-March!