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While Russian River Brewing truly immortalized Pliny the Elder as the earliest champion of hops with their eponymous double IPA, the Roman intellectual and botanist had no love for rye! He wrote “it is a very poor food and only serves to avert starvation.”
We’re pretty sure, however, that the famous Elder (he died at the ripe age of 58 while trying to save victims of Mt. Vesuvius’ volcano) never enjoyed a true Roggenbier using Proximity’s malted rye, or even a Dark Saison brewed with our proprietary crystal and chocolate rye malts. Certainly, those experiences would have changed his mind!
Malted rye contributes both a uniquely pleasant spice note, and also mouthfeel to your beer. While it’s known to be a sticky grain to brew with, when used in relatively low percentages, rye malt can help build flavor and complexity, and add a little more color in almost any beer style.
Rye additions to your recipe can vary from a pinch like 1%-3% for dryness and a hint of rye flavor, to 35% – 50%, as is common in an American Rye Beer or a classic Roggenbier. Our Green Silo Saison collaboration with Steve Dresler and Ska Brewing used a healthy portion of both Proximity Crystal Rye and Proximity Chocolate Rye to lend that spice, and bit of color and umami to the brew. See the recipe here:
So what’s going on in the rye kernel when we malt it, compared to barley or wheat? Like wheat, rye kernels don’t have hulls that remain intact during malting. With no hull to moderate water uptake in steeping, and a different endosperm cell structure compared to barley, rye (and wheat) are susceptible to unacceptable moisture levels and can then become sticky in the germination phase of malting. The maltster has to keep a close eye on the grain from beginning of steeping, and throughout the germination process. She limits the initial steep and gives it a longer air rest before another immersion and draining.
Like barley (and wheat), rye will fully modify, providing the brewer plenty of extract. The additional pentosans that lend to potential stickiness in the processing of rye malt are the very compounds that contribute to the grain’s unique and pleasant flavors and mouthfeel. Its slightly higher protein (compared to barley), and the bio-chemical make-up of the kernel provides a slightly higher color as well, compared to both barley and wheat – with about 4 Lovibond versus a typical 1.8 respectively.
Like wheat, most ryes grown in North America are winter varieties, which aid in the greening of America. Check out the webpage at the USDA that measures vegetation, and let’s do what we can to turn America green. If you’re interested in learning more about the sustainability of winter grains, take a look at our blogpost on Mid-Atlantic Wheat Malt!
In the late 15th century, after a spate of bad harvests, German law ruled that ONLY barley could be used to brew beer. The famous Rheinheitsgebot defining ‘beer purity’ legislated the four legal ingredients of beer to barley, yeast, water and hops; and rye usage was limited to baking bread. As a result, the Roggenbier style disappeared for nearly 500 years until the late 1980s. Clearly, the Proximity Malt team wants to be part of the future that brings rye back to beer! Please let us know your favorite way to brew with rye…we’d love to hear from you!