February Style of the Month: Rye Beer

Welcome to the first ever Style of the Month! At the beginning of each month of 2015 (and possibly beyond!) I am going to declare a certain style of beer as the style of the month. What does that mean, exactly? Well, for you, it really means as much as you want it to. What it means for me is that I am going to try to focus on drinking as many different types of a certain variety of beer during that month. I will be talking about what I'm drinking over on the What's on Tap? board in the Hops and Hanks Ravelry group, and I would love to hear from y'all as well!

Additionally, in the Style of the Month post here I will give a brief history of the style of beer as well as what I like about it and styles I have already tried.

I chose to give ryes the position of honor as my first style of the month because they are consistently some of my favorite beers. The first rye I can remember really loving is the Terrapin Templeton Rye Barrel Aged Mosaic Red Rye IPA (whew! a mouthful...). It was spicy and crisp, while still having the bitter hints of hops that I was just beginning to love. Since then I have thoroughly enjoyed Founder's Red's Rye IPA, Against the Grain's Kentucky Ryed Chiquen, and, as pictured above, Two Brother's Cane and Ebel.

 The Reinheitsgebot, or the Bavarian Purity Law

The Reinheitsgebot, or the Bavarian Purity Law

The history of rye beer is an old and complex one. The original rye beer was known as Roggenbier and was brewed in Germany until the 15th century. If you've ever heard of the Bavarian purity laws (which were adopted in 1516 and decreed that beer may only consist of water, barley and hops) you might find it interesting that those came about as a direct result of several years of bad rye harvests. The rye malts that had been used in Roggenbier for centuries were also used in bread and were suddenly in short supply. In order to avoid famine all bread-making grains (wheat, spelt and rye) were prohibited from use for more... frivolous purposes.

And so, for 500 years, the world knew not the joys of the rye beer. May of 1988, however, was a glorious month indeed when the European Court of Justice declared that the Reinheitsgetbot be lifted and Bavaria be graced with the presence of rye beer once more. 

This left us American's filled with some intense FOMO (fear of missing out) though, because we had heard of the wonders of rye ale, and a small few with deep pockets had traveled to the magical land of Bavaria to even get to taste the nectar of German life, but there were no breweries in the states that produced anything comparable to German Roggenbier. So, we began to experiment. And in the true American tradition of adopting a culture and adapting it to suit ourselves, the craft brewers of good ol' USA created something completely new.

What we typically think of as a rye ale is actually a hybrid - a beer made with both barley and rye malts. By combining the two, modern craft brewers are able to tailor their rye ales over a wide spectrum from sweet and malty to spicy and full of rye character.

Rye ales are typically yellow to copper in color, with a lovely, long-lasting head. If they have hoppy notes they typically reflect the citrus nature of American-grown hops, but are typically moderate on the IBU scale.

I would recommend drinking a rye ale on your back porch on a crisp spring day while you listen for the first robins of spring and watch the buds form on nearby trees. A sharp cheddar or a tangy Orange Chicken would pair nicely with this lovely, spicy beer.

Sources/Further reading:

Read up on the Bavarian Purity Law

Here are the Beer Judge Certification Program's notes on American Rye Ales

Read More About the History of Roggenbier