Brewing with Rye
Brian “Spike” Buckowski (right) is the head brewer for the Athens, Georgia-based Terrapin Brewery, run with partner John Cochran (left). On the advice of an old college roommate, Buckowski tried brewing his own beer. Soon, his “real job” briefcase contained not only his regular work, but his homebrewing books too. Eventually, he took a leave of absence to study at the American Brewers Guild. Back in Georgia he wore his suit for a final three months before his “hobby turned into a career” when he landed his first brewing job with the Atlanta Brewing Company in 1997. Terrapin Brewery was launched in April 2002. Six months later the Rye Pale Ale took home a gold medal at the 2002 Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in Denver in the “American Pale Ale” category.
We’re based out of Athens, Georgia and when people found out that the Terrapin flagship beer was going to be a big west coast-style pale ale, the first thing I heard was, “You guys are going to release an aggressive hoppy pale ale in the southeast? Is it going to sell?”
“Why not?” was my response. Most of the answers I got were (concerned with) how the bitterness sits on your tongue. People were concerned with that.
So when I started developing the recipe, I looked at hops, but also the malt bill. Being a big Jim Beam rye whiskey fan, I noticed how the rye in the whiskey dries out the palate. I started playing with the rye so my beer would have that crispness or dryness on the palate. I use about 10% rye in the grist bill and all low cohumulone hops, which have the lower level of harshness. Basically that’s how we got that nice crisp finish to our beer. Everything is up front. The bitterness is upfront, the aroma is upfront and after 10–15 seconds it’s a nice clean beer.
I would say the beer remains in style since we only use 10% rye in the grist bill. I can’t say how it would be with more than 10%, but the more rye the spicier the character. I would assume if you used a lot of rye, it might be more of a sharp palate rather than a full palate and might not adhere to style. The reason I started playing with rye was for that little extra spiciness and that cleansing of the palate. It can add a spicy, yet clean flavor.
For homebrewers, how much rye to use depends on the type of recipe. I would start in increments of 10%. If you want a little more flavor, try 20%. It depends on the flavor profile you’re after. If you want to find out what rye really tastes like, you can go big, like 60% rye. Then you’ll really know what the rye flavor will be like and can adjust accordingly. Or maybe do a 50–50 split with pale malt and rye malt. You already know what pale malt gives you; so all that extra flavor must come from the rye, right? Once you figure that out, you can adjust the recipe to get the desired rye flavor characteristics.
I use malted rye, and because there are no husks, I pulverize it as much as I can. It’s not like a fine powder or dust, but you wouldn’t want to crush your grains the way I crush my rye. When you mill your grains, you want to have your husks intact. Rye is a smaller grain, so if I left my mill gap the same as for my other grains, you’d get a lot of whole kernel rye coming through. You have to be careful. I just mill the barley and rye separately.
If you use a lot of grains that don’t have husks, you may have to add rice hulls. The hulls will help create a nice fluffy grain bed and act as a filter. So, you might want to look into using rice hulls if you are going over 10% rye in the grain bill. I haven’t had a lot of lautering problems, because I only use 10%.
I find that because I use only 10% rye, I can go for normal conversion. I mash in at 154–155 °F (~68 °C) and go from there. I don’t separate the rye and add it in later. I get enough enzymes from the bulk malt and other grains that I don’t worry about it. I mash for about an hour. It’s 15 minutes for the mash in, then I let it rest for 10 minutes to firm up the bed, and then whirl off for about an hour until I get a nice clear wort. If I had different equipment though, times could be a little longer or shorter.
We use Wyeast 1272 (American Ale II), and I have not seen any negative affects that the rye contributes to the yeast. We get normal fermentations all the time.
Basically, with the Terrapin Rye Pale Ale, I wanted to make an American pale ale and I also wanted to use low cohumulone hops. The Fuggles and Goldings bring some earthiness to the beer, while the other hops are big American citrusy hops. For my malts I use pale, Munich Victory, rye and honey malt. I am just trying to get a variety of flavors. Of course, each malt brings a different character, plus I like complex beers. The reason I started playing with rye was for that little extra spiciness and that cleansing of the palate. It can add a spicy, yet clean flavor.
Tim Schwartz is headbrewer at Real Ale Brewing in Blanco, Texas. (The name is not meant to imply that they brew British cask-style ales.) The brewery is the home of Full Moon Pale Rye Ale. Schwartz began homebrewing in college, eventually honing his skills as an assistant brewer at The Bitter End brewpub in Austin, Texas in 1994. He became headbrewer in 1995 where he crafted many of the pub’s fine brews before moving to Real Ale in 2004.
Rye is a unique ingredient. With the Full Moon Pale Rye Ale, we have a pretty high percentage of medium crystal malts in there, so the rye adds complexity and balances out all that crystal. The rye dries it out a little bit and the crystal gives it that sweetness and body. In some ways the recipe would have too much crystal malt, too much body, without the rye. That interplay works really well. They balance each other out.
We use about 17% rye in Full Moon. If you put that percentage in a light ale it can be too dry, but with all the crystal in this beer, it works well.
Since we are currently brewing in an older facility, we grind the rye the same as other grains. However, the rye is smaller, has no husk and it is a little harder to crush than barley. But we’ve done it both ways with our grains. If you want to get better extract efficiency, you should set your mill to a smaller gap and grind it a little finer.
To aid in lautering, we do add some rice hulls, but we don’t add too much — only about 1 1?2% of the grain bill. It doesn’t take too much, but it does help float that mash.
All-grain brewers, if you want to do a single-step infusion and not mash out I would definitely mash high around 157–158 °F (69–70 °C), but I would add rice hulls if that’s the case. The higher temperature allows it to run off a little better. If you have the time and want to do a full procedure, you can step-mash, do a protein rest at 122–124 °F (50–51 °C) for 10 minutes, and then step it up to 156–157 °F (~69 °C). Mash out at 168 °F (76 °C). It’s just going to run off better; it will be less viscous.
The yeast we use is a high flocculation, similar to the Wyeast 1968 (London ESB) or White Labs 007 (Dry English Ale), in that family. We don’t notice much difference from barley as far as fermentation characteristics from the rye. There is no major effect.