another imperial: rye
To continue the discussion on imperial beers, which began with imperial pumpkins, let’s take a look at an imperial rye.
The late fall / early winter beer season is by far my favorite. As in, no contest. I stock up on beer this time of year and I generally drink darker beers until the days where I sweat just by going outside.
Not all imperial beers are dark, however. Many solid imperial IPAs, imperial wheats and even at least one imperial Helles lager exist in the world. I recently tasted and imperial rye, the Southern Tier 2XRye, and it seems that rye beer is a fair candidate to upgrade to imperial status.
Southern Tier brews several “2X” beers, and you can think of them as double or imperial in nature. I myself have had very mixed experiences with these – I really enjoyed the 2XSteam, but the 2XMas (their Christmas beer, get it?) which I had in Texas was not my taste at all. These big beers tend to pit friends against friends in the beer taste sense. Sure, pumpkin beers tend to be devisive, but Southern Tier’s Pumpking Imperial Pumpkin? Drinkers either love or hate that thing.
The 2XRye pours a very pretty amber-brown with relatively high carbonation and moderate head. The rye is present in the aroma even more than in the taste. This beer has an intensity of hops that somewhat mask the rye character. I find this to be true of many beers brewed with rye, and I think that is because hops and rye play so well together.
So what does the rye do to the beer? Even though rye is obviously a grain and should be thought of as part of the malt profile, the attributes that it adds are actually more along the hop spectrum — words like spicy, peppy, earthy.
Some would say that rye changes the mouthfeel and makes it slick the way other specialty grains such as oatmeal do. I don’t really find this to be true, but I find that my palate is not acutely aware of mouthfeel.
“Rye’s ability to thrive under poor soil conditions and cold temperatures has long made it a staple in the diets of Northern and Central Europeans. Although perhaps best known for its use in baked goods, rye also has a history of use in the production of whiskey, gin, and, yes, even beer.” –morebeer.com
Another high-alcohol beer that employs rye is Real Ale’s Sisyphus Barleywine. I brought this bottle back from Texas and enjoyed it with my brewing club. In contrast to the Southern Tier, this brew is much sweeter. The rye adds a complexity that is in contrast to the other flavors rather than in line with them. In this case I actually thought the rye cut some of the slickness of the usual barleywine style ale.
Some of the most notable rye beers include Founder’s Red’s Rye IPA, Two Bothers Cane & Ebel, Boulevard’s Rye-on-Rye, and Bell’s Smitten Golden Rye Ale — four out the top six rye brews are made here in the Midwest!
Whether high in alcohol, hoppy, sweet, or somehwere in between, rye beers are certainly some of the most popular beers out there. Rye being a hearty grain historically has made them popular from one coast to the other, and rye beers continue to be fairly widely and consistently available.