Rye Beer

Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye IPA

Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye IPABeer No. 69 – Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye IPA

Is this really a problem?

The New York Times is reporting that large-format, 750 ml and beyond brews will face, and maybe already are facing, an uphill battle with craft consumers. Among the complaints are:

  • Cost/value 
  • Sessionability
  • Brewers are putting all the good stuff in this format
  • This isn’t beer

Some of these points are more interesting than others. Like beer isn’t beer if it’s bottled and priced like wine and scotch and fancypants.

I’ll admit that price isn’t, at the moment, a barrier for me. And except for nights like tonight, with a late start forcing my hand to the 12-ounce section of the beer rack, neither is sessionability. That’s why it’s hard to take the complaints of these beer sommeliers – whose job it is to sell large-format craft beers – too seriously when they say large-format craft beers “can be problematic to sell.” To Mitt Romney, sure. But you work at a hip restaurant in New York City. You mean to tell us you can’t sell two or three beers? Because fundamentally that’s all large-format is.

Anyway, it seems the biggest challenge here is philosophical. Too many craft consumers have their identities wrapped up with their beer, defined positively as “it’s local” or negatively by what it’s not (“anything but Bud Light”). Fine, that’s not the best definition but we now have some parameters. We also have some assumptions, including “This is beer.” By comparison, what’s obviously not is wine, and bourbon. So when craft brewers start experimenting with barrel aging, craft consumers bristle. People don’t like to have their assumptions challenged.

Make no mistake, this isn’t about price or the lament of hipster sommeliers. We are entering the next phase of brew development and should support these efforts, not undermine them. Beer has been evolving for thousands of years. Dogfish Head Midas Touch (Beeradvocate 84, ratebeer 93) is an homage to three drink ingredients – barley, grapes and honey – discovered in the burial site of King Midas. You have to believe the ancient Greeks and today’s beer geeks didn’t use the same methods or stylistic flourishes.

Beer is evolving. It will continue to evolve. And I guess I can’t and won’t get too worked up over someone who wants to charge $14 for 750 ml of a Farmhouse Ale aged in red wine barrels. That sounds like something someone put a lot of time and effort into, and more importantly it sounds highly quaffable.

Beer Notes: It seems the whole-cone hops get lost in the caramel ryeness of it. But it is crisp – rather so – for a rye beer so maybe that is the whole-cone hops coming through. Pleasant finish, decent effort.

Beeradvocate Rating: 88

ratebeer Rating: 98

Hayward Abbey Rating: 84

Bell’s Smitten Golden Rye Ale

Bell's Smitten Golden Rye AleBeer No. 64 – Bell’s Smitten Golden Rye Ale

It starts, as it usually doesn’t, with something special. What the hell are these little pollen dusts doing in my glass, and why are they turning me on? Am I drinking beer today or chicken stock from a Michelin starred kitchen?

These Rye Beers have put me on full tilt. Like Emmy Rossum, I can’t stop thinking about them.

So I let this brew with the IPA nose sit for a few weeks before granting myself the privilege of tasting it. The moment had to be right, as it is now. A near Spring day, momma bear and little b napping, and little ol’ me with nothing to do except relax with a pint that smells like cantaloupe, coriander and pine.

It’s not my favorite in this style, no. But it is a decent effort, highlighted by a refreshing weight. It’s rare to find a cool-your-mouth brew with enough body that you have to be reminded to swallow. Maybe I’m overreacting to last night. Or maybe not. I think it really does have that balance.

When the lips meet the glass there’s also rye bread (more obviously than with others in this style), bitter honey, dried leaves and mostly there roundness that’s sullied only by the absence of a citrus, ideally tangerine, note.

Beeradvocate Rating: 85

ratebeer Rating: 87

Hayward Abbey Rating: 85

Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye

Beer No. 49 – Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye

Why I don’t drink this more often is still a mystery to me. The first time, it was ludicrous, barley pancakes and hoppy syrup. Once or twice in between, buttered flowers on toasted rye bread. Today, I’m nearly out of worthy descriptors.

I’m in my 30s now, having missed the sexting and DTF foam party generation. The silver lining, maybe, is that I get to experience the craft revolution at a time in my life when I have some bills to spare. And this Down To Quaff beer is a tastegasm worth enjoying now.

STYLE: Rye Beer

ABV: 8%

LOOK: Forest brown, copper highlights. The glass sweats, my mouth waters. It’s thick, rich, sturdy. Most importantly, it has structural integrity. A half-finger head could easily be confused with a protein shake. It moves with the beer, like pudding, without thinking. It’s just built that way – it has no choice.

NOSE: Strong hoppy nose. Herb butter, grapefruit, lemon peel, pine. Honey and subtle spices, I’m not sure what, pop in to say hello.

MOUTH: Bold statement time: It might be the most balanced beer I’ve ever had. In a different way, I think Allagash Curieux would give it a good run, and maybe prevail. But that’s another review for another time. This one, oh my. Sweet, bitter, malty, floral, distinctive. Three things happen with each sip. First, my nose swells with aroma, mostly buttered hops. Next, a soft soft blanket slowly coats the inside, then the outside, of my mouth, tongue to cheeks to lips to throat. Finally, the perfect astringent bite, a special reminder of who’s the boss. Rye, Cascade hops, and definitely DTQ.

Beeradvocate Rating: 95

ratebeer Rating: 100

Hayward Abbey Rating: 98