Sunday, October 4, 2009

Make a Beer I've Never Had? Rye Not?!

Brew Day #4 ("Oktobrewfest") was another great success. The weather was quintessentially fall-like and perfect for brewing. Though a breeze can sometimes cause problems with homebrewing (I don't think there's such a thing as an oak leaf addition during the boil), it didn't bring us any trouble this time around.

KC Hop Head tried his hand at brewing a 10-gallon batch for the first time, choosing the ease and simplicity of extract over all-grain. With the bigger size of the batch and the chosen style of an Imperial IPA, though, I think any time saved by using extract was minimized by the time it took to open all the cans. Hop Frog also made a 10-gallon batch, choosing an American IPA he named "Tangerine IPA" for the Summit hops, which impart a tangerine-like flavor and aroma.

Since the theme of brew day was German food & beer, I wanted to make a German style and thought it might be fun to try making a beer I've never had. Roggenbier is an old German ale made with a large percentage of rye. The rye beers we know and love today are made with just a fraction of the rye used in Roggenbier. For example, rye is about 15% of the grain bill used to make Hop Rod Rye and 10% for Founders' Red's Rye. Traditional Roggenbier has rye composing about 50% of the grain used to make the beer - sometimes more.

Unfortunately, as a result of the Reinheitsgebot, which limited Bavarian brewers only to barley for beer production, Roggenbier became all but extinct. Wheat beers (weizens) only survived because rich Bavarian royalty intentionally wrote a loophole into the "beer purity law." They loved their weizenbier so much that they made it legal for one specific brewery to continue making the beer (for a price, of course).

This beer is typically a bit hazy ("turbid") with a prominent malt character and low hop bitterness (around 15 IBUs). Roggenbier is also brewed with a hefeweizen yeast, lending a little clove flavor to partner up with the spiciness from the rye. The beer should have a dry finish and moderate to high carbonation, making it great for the remaining warm days of autumn.

Roggenbier was pretty straightforward to brew. I pulled the recipe from Jamil's Brewing Classic Styles book and listened to his show on Brewing Network about the style. Like wheat, and unlike barley, malted rye is huskless meaning that, without that husk to maintain any rigid structure, it turns into a gummy mess during the mash. We added a pound of rice husks to the grain bill to prevent a stuck mash, and it apparently did the job. Draining the wort was slow-going, but it never got stuck. Mr Wort Hog suggested replacing some of the hops in the recipe; it suggested 1/3 ounce of Saaz hops but he made a good point that Bavarian brewers wouldn't have used Saaz (and besides, the rye should provide enough spiciness without needing to borrow it from the hops). We used an ounce of Hallertau Mittelfruh instead, with a few grams of Magnum to get the bittering units up to where they should be. I made a 1L yeast starter from Wyeast 3068 (Weihenstephan weizen yeast) to get fermentation going strong, and that seemed to work, as fermentation was visibly underway within a few hours.

I'm looking forward to how this turns out; it should be ready to keg in about 8-10 days so I'll get to check it out here in a few weeks. Because it is not hoppy or high in alcohol, this beer should be consumed fresh.

For more information on Roggenbier, check out the German Beer Institute's site or the BJCP style guidelines. And for those of you who couldn't join us on Saturday, I'll leave you with a poem that one of our friends wrote to describe her experience.

Looks like a felony
Smells like breakfast
Sounds like pitch and brix and mash paddles
Feels like sticky ribbons in the wind
Tastes like hard made easy

Now that is homebrewing.


  1. We used to get Thurn und Taxis Roggen in KC, but it's been a long time since I've seen it. I found some tasting notes, but they were from '99! It mentioned clove, so your choice of 3068 looks good!

  2. Yeah, I've read that the Thurn & Taxis Roggen (now Paulaner Roggen) is no longer distributed to the states. Looks like a handful of craft breweries (and even Gordon Biersch!) have tried their hand at roggenbier, including Free State (well, their own version, a combo roggenbier & doppelbock) and Flat Branch out in Columbia.

  3. Great write up on Brew Day 4.0. I knew that was an ambitious recipe, but 50% Rye? Wow.

    The Apricot Maibock was also fantastic. Hard to believe it was a bad beer gone good.

  4. Great Divide has a rye Lager called Hoss out now. Another rye option. I've been working on a bottle of Russel's Reserve Rye, but that something completely different!

  5. Thank you for the heads-up on Hoss; I hadn't heard of it (looks like a rye Märzen. Interesting.). The Russel's Reserve sounds interesting as well. ;)

    The roggenbier ended up with a slightly higher FG than desired so we cranked up the temp to try to get fermentation to start again; there's still a bit of yeast in suspension I think. (I'm sure some of the stuff in suspension is grain particles/proteins but since the FG is off surely some of it is yeast.) We shall see how it goes...


Tasting Notes