If you've tried rye whiskey, you know how the grain adds spice and plenty of roundness to the belly-warming beverage. But rye isn't just for whiskey. When added to beer, the grain creates similar characteristics – spiciness, earthiness, and a tartness that's reminiscent of pumpernickel bread. Rye beers run the gamut from sweet, smooth, and malty to crisp and dry with a zing of bitter hops.
Even though you won't find loads of rye beers at your local bottle shop, American brewers are starting to use the grain more often, especially in pale ales and IPAs, otherwise known as RyePAs. Heather McReynolds, brewer at Sixpoint Brewery, says she likes how rye interacts with hops. "A lot of hops have spicy, earthy, and herbal notes just like rye, so it's fun to bring the two together." On the other hand, she says citrusy fruity hops can provide the perfect counterpoint to the spiciness of rye, creating a beer packed with contrasts.
That's what you'll find in Sixpoint's Righteous Ale, a canned rye that's heavy on American "C" hops–Chinook, Cascade, Centennial, and Columbus–backed by toasty rye breadiness and a subtle sweetness.
Four More Rye Beers Worth Trying
Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye set a high bar for hoppy American rye beers when it was first released more than a decade ago. Today's beer still weaves spice and caramel into a chewy beer with a big citrusy hop finish.
New Belgium RyePA is a new rye ale that tilts toward the hoppy side. Made with rye from a small maltster in North Carolina, near New Belgium's new brewery, the beer has some nutty sweetness, black pepper, and plenty of piney, bitter hops.
Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye shows how rye can temper hops. The balance in this beer comes as a tangy rye graininess balances out grassy and orange peel hop notes.
Founders Red's Rye IPA is brewed with four kinds of Belgian caramel malts and Amarillo hops, which creates a round, complex beer intertwined with fresh, spicy, and herbal notes. The beer is creamy yet sharp and perfectly carbonated.