Roggenbier: Return of the Rye

Roggenbier: Return of the Rye

Rye is an impish ingredient, notorious for having one of the most assertive flavor profiles of all cereal grains. Nevertheless, it’s been a part of the American craft beer scene for some time and is making a quiet comeback from the depths of brewing history.

Because it’s difficult to brew with on its own, Rye is often used as an adjunct (addition) to more popular grains like barley, allowing brewers to create new twists on old favorites. Whether adding body and dryness to a Rye-PA or spicing up a stout, porter, lager or ale, rye has been warmly received by craft beer drinkers.

Rye beers were once commonly brewed and popular in Bavaria, but fell out of favor after 1516 when the German Beer Purity Law—the Reinheitsgebot—was adopted. The law specified that only barley, hops and water could be used in the brewing of beer (no one yet knew that yeast was a major part of the brewing process). This resulted in a prolonged—but ultimately temporary—lull in the practice of brewing with rye.

But up until that time, there had been a beer style that reveled in its substantial rye grain bill, turbid and full of natural grain spice. In the hands of a few modern-day brewers, this beer has been reawakened and returned to the glasses of the people. It is known as Roggenbier.

Roggenbier

Roggenbier, which literally translates to ‘rye beer’, is typically made up of at least 50 percent malted rye, though there are modern examples using 65 percent or more. That lends it a characteristic grainy and spicy flavor. Bitterness is usually low, and you’ll most likely detect classic weizen yeast characters of tart citrus, vanilla or bubblegum.

A classic roggenbier is cloudy—‘turbid’ is the fancy beer word. Because this style was around long before beer filtration was invented in 1878, these beers are often referred to as naturtrüb, meaning ‘naturally turbid’. You may also find that your roggenbier is served highly carbonated, which was a common practice.

There’s nothing more exciting in the world of craft beer than to be able to revive a centuries-old recipe and experience the aromas, flavors and other sensory stimuli that come with it.

Whenever I enjoy one of these old revivals, I always like to take a moment to imagine people enjoying the beer during the time in which it originated. Much like old poetry, the personality of the style outlives its original creator, but is carried on in the enjoyment and appreciation of successive generations of beer lovers like ourselves. Roggenbier is a message in a bottle, timelessness in a glass—and I suggest you try one.

Roggenbier Examples

Other Rye Beers