It is difficult to find good examples of the roggenbier style. Few commercial examples exist and those that do are rarely shipped around the world. That is why I was so excited when I heard that my friend John Curtis was teaming up with Michael Ferguson (who was the brewer at Barley’s in Las Vegas at that time) to brew a roggenbier for the National Homebrew Conference. JC had brewed numerous test batches to dial in the recipe, so I was anticipating a fine roggenbier. When I finally had a chance to sit down at Barley’s for a pint, I was amazed. It was clearly the best roggenbier I had ever had. It was spectacular, with a fine rye note and a malty finish.
The quick and dirty way to describe roggenbier is to say it is like a dunkelweizen made with rye instead of wheat. While there is some truth to that description, there are enough differences to make it not 100% accurate.
Roggenbier and dunkelweizen do have a similar appearance: hazy, ranging in color from light copper-orange to a dark copper-brown, and topped with a large, dense, creamy off-white head.
The aroma of a good roggenbier has gentle spicy notes of clove and rye along with some restrained citrus and banana. In the background there might be noble hop notes, spicy and a little floral, but they are only apparent because the other weizen-type aromatics are restrained. Another reason the weizen yeast character shouldn’t be over the top is that it would cover up the spicy rye notes. Dunkelweizen, on the other hand, will often have a more pronounced clove and banana character. Roggenbier also has slightly more body than the average dunkelweizen.
Like most weizen-style beers, roggenbier has a grainy, bready flavor, except the breadiness is more like rye or pumpernickel than whole wheat. A subtle caramel note is not unwelcome either. The balance between bittering and sweetness is usually even, though some examples can have an initial sweetness up front. While I don’t think an acidic or tart character is indicative of great roggenbier, I do think proper attenuation, pH, and hop/malt balance keeps this style refreshing and balanced with any malty sweetness.
You can’t make roggenbier without malted rye. It should comprise about 50% of the grist, which is enough to develop a significant rye flavor and to add some body to the beer. For the remainder of the base malt, a blend of continental Pilsner and Munich malt helps develop the rich, grainy, bready malt character that is so important to this style. Keep in mind that the flavor and aroma of rye malt is fairly subtle. Don’t expect a really bold character. In the United States rye bread almost always contains caraway seeds and can include ground spices such as fennel, coriander, aniseed or cardamom. So, while many people associate the bold flavor of caraway with rye, adding caraway to a roggenbier is inappropriate.
The grist still needs two malts to develop a rich color and add a touch of caramel flavor. A little caramel malt (5 to 10%) adds some color and hints of caramel flavor. Don’t add so much that the beer has a bold caramel flavor or the balance becomes too sweet. I like CaraMunich® (60 °L), but most mid-color caramel malts work just fine. To develop color without adding roasty flavors, a little debittered black malt does the trick. My preference is for Weyermann Carafa® Special, a huskless, roasted malt. The lack of a husk means far less bitter roasted flavors, which would be inappropriate in roggenbier. Weyermann also makes Carafa®, which does have a husk and a lot more roasted character, so make sure you’re getting the huskless variety, Carafa® Special. Weyermann also makes SINAMAR®, a liquid extract of Carafa® Special, made in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot. It is easy to use and provides as good a result as using the grain itself. Just add it to the boil kettle. One ounce by weight (28 g) of SINAMAR® in 5 gallons (19 L) of liquid adds 6 SRM of color and little in the way of roasted flavor. The only problem with SINAMAR® is that it is a bit harder to find at most homebrew shops than Carafa® Special.
This really isn’t a great style for extract brewers. There are no rye malt extracts, so the rye needs to be mashed. Most rye malts will self-convert when held long enough at saccharification temperature. All it takes is paying attention to the water/grain ratio and holding the mash in the proper temperature range. Yes, messing with the pH of the mash can help, but it isn’t critical for your first time and most tap water will work just fine. Other than that, the process is very similar to steeping grains. For the remaining base malt (Munich and Pilsner) you can use a 50/50 Munich/Pilsner malt or Munich/two-row extract.
Historically, like most weizen-type beers, roggenbier would have been decoction mashed. While a decoction mash might induce more Maillard reactions, the rich malt flavors provided by today’s Munich and Pilsner malts is more than adequate and a single infusion mash works well. Roggenbier has a medium to medium-full body. Target a mash temperature range of 152–156 °F (67–69 °C). If you are making a lower gravity beer, use the higher end of this temperature range to leave the beer with a bit more body. If you are making a bigger beer, use the lower end of the range to avoid too full of a body, which can limit drinkability. Keep in mind rye malt is huskless, so if your equipment is prone to stuck mashes, you might want to add a volume of rice hulls equal to the volume of rye malt.
I know the current hop shortage makes it difficult, but try to always use German hops for German beers, such as Hallertau, Spalt, Tettnang, Perle, Magnum or Tradition. Liberty or Mount Hood can be acceptable substitutes if you can’t source one of the others. Balance the beer with enough hop bitterness to be evident, but not enough to overcome the malt sweetness of the beer. The balance should be even or maybe slightly sweet, but not more. Target a bitterness-to-starting gravity ratio (IBU divided by OG) between 0.2 and 0.4. The bulk of the hopping should be as a bittering addition at 60 minutes. Limit late hop to a small addition of noble hops near the end of the boil. My friend JC prefers Czech Saaz for his late addition, as the spiciness of the hops complements the spiciness of the rye.
While the traditional weizen fermentation esters and phenols should be present in roggenbier, it is more restrained than most weizen-style beers. While some brewers like to pitch a reduced cell count to increase weizen fermentation characteristics, you don’t want to do that for a roggenbier. Instead, pitching rates should be the same as other ales. My favorite yeasts for all weizen-type beers is White Labs WLP300 Hefeweizen Ale and Wyeast 3068 Weihenstephan Weizen. You can try other weizen-type yeasts and might prefer one over the other, so feel free to experiment. A restrained fermentation temperature of 62 °F (17 °C) produces a nice balance and restrained esters.
(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)
OG = 1.054 (13.4 °P)
FG = 1.014 (3.6 °P)
IBU = 17 SRM = 16 ABV = 5.3%
After tasting JC’s roggenbier, I asked him for some tips and he generously shared his recipe, as all great brewers are willing to do. The recipe below is a slightly simplified version of his and makes an excellent roggenbier.
6.0 lb. (2.72 kg) Dingemans or Briess rye malt (3.5 °L)
2.75 lb. (1.25 kg) Durst or Weyermann Pilsner malt (1.8 °L)
2.75 lb. (1.25 kg) Durst or Weyermann Munich malt (8 °L)
0.9 lb. (408 g) Weyermann CaraMunich® malt (60 °L)
2.0 oz. (57 g) Weyermann Carafa® Special II (430 °L) (Make sure you’re using the huskless Carafa® Special and not the regular Carafa®)
3.32 AAU Tettnang pellet hops, (0.83 oz./24 g at 4% alpha acids (60 min.)
0.875 AAU Czech Saaz pellet hops, (0.25 oz./7 g at 3.5% alpha acids (15 min.)
Wyeast 3068 (Weihenstephan Weizen) or White Labs WLP300 (Hefeweizen Ale) yeast
Step by Step
Mill the grains and dough-in targeting a mash of around 1.5 quarts of water to 1 pound of grain (a liquor-to-grist ratio of about 3:1 by weight) and a temperature of 154 °F (68 °C). Hold the mash at 154 °F (68 °C) until enzymatic conversion is complete. Infuse the mash with near boiling water while stirring or with a recirculating mash system raise the temperature to mash out at 168 °F (76 °C). Sparge slowly with 170 °F (77 °C) water, collecting wort until the pre-boil kettle volume is around 6.5 gallons (24.4 L) and the gravity is 1.042 (10.5 °P).
The total wort boil time is 90 minutes, which helps reduce the S-methyl methionine (SMM) present in the lightly kilned Pilsner malt and results in less DMS (dimethyl sulfide) in the finished beer. Add the bittering hops with 60 minutes remaining in the boil. Add Irish moss or other kettle finings and the last hop addition with 15 minutes left in the boil. Chill the wort rapidly to 62 °F (17 °C), let the break material settle, rack to the fermenter, pitch the yeast and aerate thoroughly.
Ferment at 62 °F (17 °C) until the yeast drops clear. With healthy yeast, fermentation should be complete in a week, but don’t rush it. The cooler than average ale fermentation temperature can extend the time it takes for the beer to attenuate fully. Rack to a keg and force carbonate or rack to a bottling bucket, add priming sugar, and bottle. Target a carbonation level of 2.5 to 3 volumes.
Partial Mash Option
The Munich and Pilsner malts get replaced with 3.8 lb (1.72 kg) of a Munich extract blend (50/50 or 60/40 is fine). The rye malt needs to be converted via a mash. Crush the rye and other grains and place crush grains in a steeping bag. Heat 10 quarts (~ 9.5 L) to 160 °F (71 °C), add grain bag, and let steep for approximately one hour. Rinse out the grains and proceed as normal, adding the extract and water to the steeping liquor.