Winter warmer beers are often dark, rich and spicy. But if you’re looking for a hoppier alternative that still has a traditional wintery spice bite, rye beers may be a seasonal hybrid that fits the bill. Like rye breads and rye whiskeys, beers made with a small portion of rye added to the grain mix exhibit a subtle spiciness from the peppery rye that, in beer, complements the bitterness of the hops. To drive this up to the next level, some brewers are using large amounts of rye and loads of hops to brew what are increasingly known as RyePAs named after the more barley malt-based IPAs.
As with most beery brainstorms, our local and west coast brewers are having a field day playing with this genre. Here’s a list of California brews to pick from on your next wintery San Francisco eve:
- Bear Republic’s Hop Rod Rye - This year-round brew from Healdsburg’s Bear Republic may best be categorized as a double RyePA. At a heady 8% ABV, a citrusy 80 IBUs, and peppery 18% rye in the mix, this flavorful brew is surprisingly balanced.
- Sierra Nevada’s Ruthless Rye – Sierra’s take on a seasonal RyePA is, like many of their other beers, hop forward with loads of citrus from Chinook, Citra and what Sierra is calling “Experimental” hops. What makes this beer a standout in Sierra’s lineup is the earthy rye tones underneath the hops. Very drinkable at 6.6% ABV and 55 IBUs.
- Speakeasy’s Scarlett Red Rye – Don’t look for this one on the brewer’s website; the limited release brew from Speakeasy is surprisingly sweet and malty up front with hoppy floral highlights. The spicy rye comes on stronger at the finish.
- Karl Strauss’ Boardwalk Black Rye IPA - Karl Strauss’ limited edition Black Rye IPA uses black and caramelized version of rye malts and a huge west-coast dose of Ahtanum hops to make this spicy black ale. It clocks in at 8% ABV and a crisp 80 IBUs.
- Marin Brewing Co.'s 3 Flowers Rye IPA – If you’re looking for a lighter touch of rye and alcohol but still want all the hops of an IPA, this is a good choice. The three flowers in Marin’s RyePA refer to Citra, Cascade, and Chinook hops. Malted and flaked rye is added to the malt barley and the juicy brew finishes at a kicked back 6.5% ABV and 63 IBUs.
- The Bruery’s Sour in the Rye – Another off-the-charts beer from this Orange Country brewer. The Bruery starts by crafting a beer that’s stuffed with 40% rye malt, then sour-ages the fermented beer in oak barrels for over a year. The finished brew is a balanced mahogany masterpiece of oak, spicy rye, and mild funk. The 2012 version is a deceptive 8.8% ABV.