One of the trends that I’ve been seeing lately in craft brews across the country is the judicious inclusion of a small amount of rye malt to bolster the flavour and body of a beer. This is actually a very old idea that people are rediscovering.
For a long time, the use of rye was frowned upon. In 1516, the beers made with them were declared illegal in Germany as a result of the Bavarian Purity Law, which allowed only the use of barley. Aside from this historical judgement, there were a couple of other important factors that mitigated its popularity. For one, improperly stored, moldy rye tends to produce ergot, a fungus, resulting in some really viciously unpleasant symptoms in humans and livestock. We’ve largely moved beyond that due to technological advances. It can also be slightly difficult to work with for brewers because the lack of structure tends to make it go all gloopy.
However, a talented brewer can use rye to bring a number of advantages to a beer. It tends to impart a spicy character that you’ll be familiar with if you’ve had pumpernickel or a nice deli sandwich. It creates a very pretty slightly red tinge to improve the beer visually. It rounds out the mouthfeel and because it’s high in protein and it creates a lasting, foamy head.
Cameron’s Brewing Company in Ontario has just launched their second rye-based beer, expanding on the popularity of their first foray, the Rye Pale Ale. The Rye Pale Ale is a darling of Ontario beer nerds due to the way the spicy rye character and the citrus burst of the hops play off each other. It is slightly over the top in terms of balance, but it’s boldly cheerful about it from the bright label through to the final sip. If you’re in western Canada, you can replicate the experience with Phillip’s Krypton Rye Pale Ale, which features the same interplay of ingredients in a slightly less boisterous manner.
The second attempt by Cameron’s, Resurrection Roggenbier is a play on German rye beer without the big North American hops to contemporize it. It manages to convey exactly what rye can do as a star ingredient in a beer. There is the spicy character and a wide, spreading mouthfeel despite the dry finish down the centre of the palate. There are notes of black pepper and fermenting apple; it is surprisingly light.
Since rye as a beer ingredient seems to be increasing in popularity, this is a good opportunity for beer enthusiasts to develop a sense of what it tastes like in an undiluted form. Plus, it goes pretty well with a pastrami sandwich.
Jordan St.John writes about beer at saintjohnswort.ca. Visit his site to see how you can win two tickets to Mill Street’s Oktoberfest!