Brewing with Rye & Alternative Grains

For this week, we’re allowing barley to take a backseat to “alternative” brewing grains, also known as adjuncts.

Adjuncts are unmalted grains or grain products added to the mash to supplement the main mash ingredient, barley.

ryeRye, a close relative to barley, is often used in baking, whiskey, vodka, animal feed, and even beer. In fact, rye served as the primary brewing grain in Germany until the 15th century. Consequently, after a run of bad harvests, it was decided this cereal grain was only suitable for baking bread, as barley transitioned into one of the four ubiquitous ingredients in beer-making. This, of course, was formalized in the Reinheistgebot, the famous German Beer Purity Law of 1516. Afterwards, rye beer, known as Roggenbier, virtually disappeared in Germany. It wasn’t until 1988 that this specialty beer resurfaced in Bavaria.

In recent years, rye has seen a revival by American craft breweries.

Red Rye IPAThe modern version of Roggenbier is typically around 5% ABV and has a rich grain flavor somewhat like pumpernickel bread – typically with rye composing up to 50% of the malt bill. Some brewers have even experimented with adapting rye beer into a hybrid India Pale Ale (“Rye-P-A”), giving it a hop-forward flavor profile.

When mixed with barley, rye lends complex flavors to beer, with added sharpness and a crisp, dry edge. It can also be kilned to create toasty chocolate or caramel flavors. Depending on other brewing methods and ingredients, rye can be manipulated to create a range of flavor intensities.

One challenge of brewing with rye is that it contains no hulls or husks – unlike barley, wheat, and other grains.

This outer shell of the grain seed helps to prevent the grains from clumping together in the mashing process. Since rye doesn’t have a hull, it tends to absorb water and cement together. One way to avoid this is by adding rice hulls in the mash to help keep things separated. No flavor is added by rice hulls, they’re used entirely for the purpose of filtering the wort.

Aside from barley and rye, there are a handful of other grains that can be used as adjuncts in beer-making.

wheatWheat, the most common out of the bunch, has a higher protein content, which provides a fuller body, hazy appearance, and foamy head. Our flagship White Zombie is a perfect example. Also, look for our new Small Batch German Hefeweizen to arrive in tasting rooms this Friday, October 20.

oatsOats are commonly used in Porters and Stouts, as they contribute a creamy, silky texture and fuller body that complements rich dark beers.

flaked maizeCorn (or maize) is mostly commonly used in the flaked maize form. It imparts a smooth mouthfeel, mild sweetness, and serves to clear haziness. Our Farmer Ted’s Cream Ale showcases the character of corn in this indigenous American beer style that dates back to Prohibition Era.

riceRice (not to be confused with rice hulls) lends a crisp and dry character, while adding minimal flavor. It can lighten the color of the beer as well and is a cheaper alternative to barley. 

Sorghum, a lesser known alternative, is a grass from areas such as Australia, Africa and India, that can be used to make gluten-free beer. Brewers typically add sorghum in a highly concentrated syrup form, which can lend sour flavors to beer.

sorghum         sorghum syrup

Catawba’s release of our Small Batch Red Rye IPA (Passport Beer #40) paid homage to our REDiculous Red IPA with an interesting twist. Brewed with six specialty malts, the beer has a sturdy malt backbone and deep ruby color. Rye lends complexity to the malt bill with its characteristic spicy notes, complementing the caramel and toasted barley of its Red Ale base. A generous addition of Simcoe and Amarillo hops yields assertive bitterness, while contributing bold aromatics of citrus and pine. This was our first rye beer of 2017, so we hope you’ve had a chance to try it in our tasting rooms!

Cheers!