Most rye beers that I’m aware of use only around 10-20% rye with the rest being the more traditional barley. I’ve always liked that little something that rye adds to the beer and was in heaven over ten years ago during that year or so when it seemed like almost everybody was making a rye beer. These days, rye beers are a bit more on the rare side, though there’s still a few hundred being made in North America.
There is also a German style of beer, Roggenbier, which uses at anywhere from 25-65% rye malt, depending on whose account you accept. The German Institute says “half barley malt and equal portions of wheat and rye malts” are used while the BJCP guidelines say “Malted rye typically constitutes 50% or greater of the grist (some versions have 60-65% rye). Remainder of grist can include pale malt, Munich malt, wheat malt, crystal malt and/or small amounts of debittered dark malts for color adjustment.” Nothing against the BJCP, but I’m more inclined to to accept the version of the German Beer Institute since it’s an association of German breweries and related institutions.
So those are the common rye beers, what about using 100% rye? Well, probably the first and foremost reason you never hear about all-rye beers is that it is so difficult to brew with. Rye has no husks, like barley does, and that means it’s extremely difficult to sparge (which is spraying hot water on the spent grain) as without the husks it turns to a thick porridge or concrete.
There was a Irish brewer, Dwan Tipperary Brewing, who closed a few years back, who made a beer called All Rye Beer or All Rye Paddy at least once. But there’s no information as to whether it really used 100% rye malt, apart from that suggestive name. I’ve also come across an account of a homebrewer making an all-rye beer. MoreBeer’s forum also has a topic dedicated to why this is a difficult task.
So perhaps I should change the title to the world’s only currently made commercial example of a 100% rye beer, but it doesn’t sound very sexy that way, now does it? At any rate, Bear Republic Brewing in Healdsburg, California on Friday, debuted what they believe to be the world’s first 100% rye beer. I was on hand to try some of the first keg of their new Easy Ryeder and talk with the brewers about it.
But let’s talk about the beer itself first. It had a dull copper color, slightly hazy, with a decent tan head. The nose was a little restrained, with some bready aromas, a touch of hops and, naturally, some rye character. But it was surprisingly smooth, mild and very drinkable, an easy ryeder indeed. I was surprised to learn it was 5% abv because it seemed more like a session beer to me, and I would have guessed a little lower than that. I thought the rye flavors might overpower the beer, but that’s not the case at all. It is light and refreshing throughout with just enough hop character (at 30 IBUs) for balance. It finishes with just a bit of rye flavor lingering, before dissipating quickly and cleanly. Again, I think my expectations were that if beer with just a fraction of rye tends to give it strong rye flavors and character, that with all rye it would be even more so, but that wasn’t really was not what happened. Instead, they managed to create a unique, ultimately very drinkable beer that in temperament seems closer to a wheat beer, but with the more barley-like flavors of rye.
The beer went through several trials before getting things right. To combat the wort turning to concrete, they had to watch the temperature fluctuations much more closely than usual (no more than 3-5 degrees or it turned to stone), and with bags of rice hulls added to make up for the lack of husks in rye malt. It was, of course, difficult to get the malt to break down and early test batches, if they didn’t become concrete-like, were still very thick and viscous and even hard to remove from the lauter tun at all. Even so, the first test batch that yielded drinkable results was the color of bad gravy, having a dull gray tint to it from all pale rye malt. Apparently it tasted fine, but who among us wants a beer the color of dishwater? Twenty-five pounds of chocolate rye malt was then added to give it the much more appealing color it exhibits today. The hops they used are Chinook and Saaz. It took four tries to get it right, as there really aren’t any manuals for tis kind of beer. Was it worth all that effort? I think so, as the results are quite tasty and in some ways different from anything else I’ve tried. It certainly must have been a learning experience and it’s interesting to see that it is possible on a commercial level to use only rye. It’s quite an achievement, and if you love rye — or just brewing innovation and creativity — you owe it to yourself to get up to Healdsburg to try this new beer.
Bear Republic brewers Rich Norgrove, Jode Yaksic, Peter Kruger and Ray Lindecker. Jode, according to Rich, had the most to do with creating the Easy Ryder, from doing the research, test batches and coming up with the name.