I don’t understand why rye doesn’t get more love. It’s a grain that adds a new dimension to both my liquor and my beer. Rye whiskey, for example, just seems smooth and spicy at the same time. How can any flavor component do that? I marvel at how it adds depth without being obnoxious. Like an added instrument in a band that brings depth to the harmony but plays in the background. The instrument is there but you don’t really notice it unless you focus on the notes. That’s rye. At least that’s rye to me.
It wasn’t always like that. Mom used to serve us these cardboard crackers back when I was a kid, literally called “rye crackers”. They were awful. Dry tasteless pieces of cardboard, they had no redeeming qualities in the opinion of my 5 year old mind. I held true to this opinion for decades until one day I was handed a bottle of beer called “Ruthless Rye” from Sierra Nevada. It was incredible. They made a strong IPA and added just enough Rye to make it interesting. It thought it was amazing because the grain made a good but ordinary IPA something unique.
A couple of years passed and I found myself at a fancy bar with a long list of over-priced bourbons. Actually everything was over-priced. This place must have had 30 different bourbons. I scanned the list over and over and finally saw something I had never tried before – a rye whiskey. I ordered rye. Why not? Might as well try something different if it’s going to be expensive evening anyway. The glass of rye arrived without ceremony but it should have had a marching band. This glass blew me away. It had that extra spicy flavor note like the rye beer but it was smoooooth.
From this point forward in my story – I’m hooked. I start shopping for every brand of rye whiskey I can find. Then I start homebrewing with the stuff. Of course I overdo it. Over doing something I really like and then expecting it to be something I love, is kinda my thing. Difference was, for rye it worked. Today I brew with really massive amounts of rye, 3 pounds for a 5 gallon batch is common. In my brew, it’s no longer the subtle instrument in the band. It’s knocked out the lead singer and it gets full attention. I fully understand that if I had to make a living selling this as a profesional brewer I would go broke. I don’t care. I brew for me.
The picture shown below represents what’s currently on tap at the Barrett bar. On the left is an imperial IPA with rye. On the right is an Irish stout, with smoked (apple wood) rye. They’re fantastic (to me) and they really push that spicy boundary, but again not commercially viable.
If anything, rye has proven to me that there are still flavor components left to discover. There are new grains, brewing processes, hops – all sorts of stuff to keep me interested. While everything ‘new’ may not be good, I firmly believe we need to stay in that mental discovery mode. There’s a world left to discover and I don’t want to miss anything.
Now let’s go find that next spicy thing. Cheers!