Thursday, January 19, 2012

Home Smoked Roggenbier Tasting

Rye is a weird grain. It has a flavor that some people call "spicy" but I've never thought it made a beer taste like it had been spiced (unless you also add caraway, like our Kvass). To me rye malt adds more of a rustic earthy grain flavor that is hard to articulate. On previous batches I'd stuck between 15-25% (in Denny's RIPA, and Brett'd Saison), but brewing with my friend Scott we went all the way up to 45% in our Cherry Wood Smoked Roggenbier. Brewing a collaborative recipe is a good way to try something out of your comfort zone, something you would not brew if the choice was entirely up to you. Sometimes it yields a beer you love (as it has on several previous batches with Scott), while other times it gives you a data point for future experiments.

Rauch Roggenbier

A glass of Cherry Smoked Roggenbier.Appearance – Ruddy brown, with the rye adding a thick almost muddy haze despite several weeks of cold conditioning. Head pours a finger thick, but deflates rather quickly. Looks similar to a dunkle, but I would like it to be a bit lighter on the haze.

Smell – Some ctrusy hops, sweet cigarette smoke, sulfury yeast. Nice complex aroma, the smoke is lighter and melds better with the yeast and hops than other smoked malts I have used. It is a nice level of smoke for complexity, but some people might want more.

Taste – Firm bitterness, lingering smoke, maltiness, a bit muddled. The rye adds an indistinct earthy malt character that gets in the way of the other flavors. I think I would back down on the rye to 25% if I brewed it again (swapping in some wheat malt probably).

Mouthfeel – Creamier and almost syrupy compared to what I expect in a beer like this (the rye's beta glucans are to credit/blame). Solid carbonation, I'm sure purists would want it spritzy, but in a higher bitterness example like this I think too much carbonation would be grating.

Drinkability & Notes – Solid beer, but it just doesn't have the balance I want. Baking down on the rye, and upping the smoke slightly would be the way to go if I brewed it again. One of the problems with home-smoked malt is that inconsistency compared to commercially smoked versions, but the soft cherry wood smoke was the right choice by Scott for this beer.

As a side-note, this is my 500th post... yikes.


  1. I think that when people say rye is spicy, they mean peppery. I do taste pepper when rye is used.

  2. Congrats on your 500th. I've been using your blog for a while as a resource, it is great.

  3. "Rye is a weird grain. It has a flavor that some people call "spicy" but I've never thought it made a beer taste like it had been spiced (unless you also add caraway, like our Kvass). To me rye malt adds more of a rustic earthy grain flavor that is hard to articulate."

    I don't get the spiciness thing either. I agree its an earthy flavor/aroma and maybe a bit of tanginess. It's the same flavors/aromas you get with high-percentage German rye breads (not the <40% ryes you tend to find in the US).

    I love rye in beers (and breads) and use it frequently, but early on I made the mistake of trying to make a high-ABV rye wine with no beta-glucan rest. It was so viscous and oily, it literally poured like syrup. It was terrible.

    I'm curious why you chose not to do a beta-glucan rest here. From what I understand, some German commercial breweries will resort to the use of added pentosanase enzymes to reduce viscosity.

  4. flavor perception is interesting. One person's "spicy" is another person's "earthy" Apparently a large part of the population can't taste the "spicy/peppery" component in many Zinfandel and syrahs. I suspect that this flavor blindness happens with fermented malt flavors as well yet hasn't been studied.

  5. I had never needed to do a beta-glucan rest before with lower percentages, but we did considered doing one. In the end we decided to see what the results were without (and save ourselves a bit of time and effort). If I used this much rye again I would definitely do one though. Well said on the comparison to rye bread.

  6. In my experience rye does not lend a spice or pepper flavour to beer. It does however add a subtle earthy, toasted rye bread (minus caraway) like flavour. I use it frequently. I like the full mouthfeel and body it provides without making beers seem heavy.

  7. The flavor that comes to my mind when tasting rye in beer reminds me of celery. I can see why folks say rye is spicy. Personally I don't care too much for rye in beer, but I would not be surprised if one day I end up loving it. Beers that I didn't like in the past end up being some of my favorites today.

  8. Thanks! We'll have to get together next time I'm up in Boston (are you around mid-March?)

  9. Yep, back in town on the 6th. I was at CBC last weekend. Thought of you.

  10. I have often thought of rye as adding an earthy flavor and spicy aroma. The perception of spice seems to have more to do with it's aromatic qualities since it pops out in the finish. I have never brewed with rye but this post has really peaked my interest.