When doing my own homebrewing I’ve used many different grains. Barley, wheat, oats and even put interesting things like pumpkin in my mash. But, I’ve also heard about a grain called rye that’s been used. I’m not sure why but it piqued my interest and I knew I had to try it.
Rye is a specialty grain often referred to as adjunct. It is like wheat in that it does not have a hull and thus can create a stuck mash. Rye is described as having a spicy flavor in beer. It can also make a beer drier. There are not many rye substitutes other than maybe triticale.
So now that we know a little bit about rye, lets dive in deep and see how its used in beer and how we can make a better beer with its use.
Beer Styles That Use Rye
Rye can be added to any beer style in small amounts to add that spicy flavor. Its also used a lot to create more body in beer since it has a higher protein level. Rye has the potential to use up to 100 percent of its fermentable sugars making for a much drier beer. This depends on how you mash the grain and if you deploy step mashing.
There are many beer styles that have used rye to their maximum potential. But, its mainly been used in the production of whiskey. It’s probably the history of rye used in beer within Europe that has me most interested in its use.
Lets take a look at some of these styles and how we might want to use it in our own beer.
This is probably the most interesting of all the beer styles I’ve seen, probably because I absolutely love Hefeweizen. Essentially Roggenbier is a cross sort of like a dunkelweizen in its taste and appearance.
This makes me excited, with that banana and clove ester from the yeast and the spicy flavors from the rye it sounds like a tasty beer to try out. The amount of rye in this beer hovers at an average of 50% of the grain bill.
American Rye Pale Ales and IPA’s
Rye has made a comeback in American craft breweries and you will often see pale ale and IPA’s made with rye in them. The problem with these beers is that the rye is masked by the massive addition of hops. This makes it difficult to taste the subtle spicy flavor that the rye imparts.
Rye is Rarely Used but Always Loved
Other than the German Roggenbier and the experimental use in American Craft Ales there are not many other instances of its use. In the future this may change but today we are a bit limited.
I have heard of some accounts of it being used in stouts to great affect and my friend brewed a brown ale with it and tons of people love it. So it does have a place.
Craft Beer with Rye
Here are some beers that are made with rye that you can find at total wine.
- Goose Island: Bourbon country bramble.
- North Coast: Old Rasputin Barrel Aged Rye.
- Mike Hess: Habitus rye IPA.
- Boulevard: Rye on rye maple.
I’m sure there are countless obscure rye beers but nothing truly famous comes to mind. Hopefully a rise in Roggenbier will give rise to some truly famous rye beers.
Forms of Rye and Effects on Beer
Just like with any grain variety you can get it in many different forms. These forms can have different effects on how the beer is used and perceived in the final product.
- Malted Rye- This is the same as any malted variety where it is sprouted and the sugars are converted to something that is readily available for yeast to munch on. Its great for single infusion mashes. Otherwise you will need to step mash or decoction mash.
- Flaked Rye – Flaked rye comes pre-gelatinized so it doesn’t need to be cooked or steeped to get that sugar conversion. This makes flaked rye stronger in its spicy component.
- Chocolate Rye- Rye just like any other malt can be roasted to bring out maltier flavors. It is very rare to find this form of rye though so you might need to do it yourself. Check out my article on roasting your own malt.
- Rye Malt Extract- If you have not moved to all grain, there is good news. Rye malt extract exists!
- CaraRye- This is essentially rye that has been caramelized. Steeped in 150 degree Fahrenheit water for an hour and then roasted while wet. It leaves more sugars and a maltier beer. You can learn more about the process in the roasting malt article.
If your not interested in roasting your own rye you can buy it here for not too much in small quantities, but it is double the normal price of grain.
Substitutes for Rye Malt
There is really nothing like rye, so its hard to have any sort of substitute for it. Rye is essentially a lot like wheat though. In fact the one possible substitute for it would be triticale, which is a genetically modified hybrid between rye and wheat.
Some other substitutes for rye may just be trying to replicate the flavor by using different ingredients. This may be using spicy hops or a lightly fruity yeast strain. Something like a spicy Belgian Tripel comes to mind.
Rye is essentially a substitute for wheat in any case and any wheat beer can be substituted with rye to the same effect. So if you think about it, it might be used in many hazy beers to add a spicy flavor on top of that fruitiness.
Chocolate Rye Substitute
Above I mentioned chocolate rye as a possible ingredient, however its high cost can be an issue. If you are not willing to roast your own the closest available substitute would be chocolate wheat malt.
How to Brew with Rye
If you are brewing rye with either flaked rye or malted rye then it becomes easier to brew. You can brew without needing to step mash, however if you decide to brew with the unmalted variety then you will need the extra step mash.
Steps for brewing with rye.
- Make sure you use rice hulls, this works in much the same way as brewing with wheat. This is because rye does not have a hull and soaks up water very readily. The rice hulls help to filter your mash.
- You will need to mill your rye, just as if you where using wheat. Milling helps increase surface area and helps to convert more sugars in the mash.
- Make sure you mill your rye separately from your other grains because it is much smaller and can remain un-crushed.
- If you decide to try a 100% rye beer recipe you will need to do a mash rest at around 110 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes or so. This is called a beta-glucanase rest. This will help prevent a stuck mash.
- If you decide to do a protein rest at around 120 degrees Fahrenheit then you will break down proteins. This will result in more fermentable sugars but less head retention.
If you are using flakes or malted rye in small proportions you won’t need to do any of the rests described above. But, if you did wan’t the spicy characteristic without so much protein heft and an even drier beer then you could do the protein rest.
Brewing 100% Rye Beer
There have been many people that decided to brew a 100 percent rye beer. It is an acquired taste that not everyone might enjoy. If you are interested in trying to make one check out some YouTube videos on it.
Basic Brewing did an interesting video on it. Take a look:
Although I am a bit sad that it is a pale ale. I think in the future I will do a video on making a Roggenbier be sure to check out the Frugal Homebrew YouTube Channel!
Unfortunately since Rye is an up and coming grain for brewing there is not much information on it. This is likely to change in the future so be sure to bookmark this page and check back for more.