Rye is a fantastic, versatile grain that is often overlooked in the homebrewing world. It can be used in a large array of styles very successfully. Rye can give a beer that little “something different” (Rye Pale Ale) or can be the main flavor and component of a brew (Roggenbier). No matter how you decide to use it there are some things you should consider when brewing with Rye.
Rye malt contributes a unique flavor to beer. Your first instinct may be to think of Rye Bread as a good flavor reference. However, most Rye bread contains Caraway seeds which impart the flavors most people associate with Rye bread and not of Rye itself. Caraway seeds have and can be used in brewing to get that flavor however we are looking to impart just the flavor of Rye. Rye’s true flavor contribution to the bread is the soft grain, tartness, and spicyness and that is what we are looking for in our beer. Along with this flavor Rye contributes a crispness or tartness on the palate often creating the impression that the beer is drier than one would expect. It is important to take these factors into consideration when brewing and adjust recipes accordingly.
Rye contributes a subtle to noticeable flavor and slight to evident crispness on the palate between 10-20% of the malt bill. Above this concentration the flavor of the Rye and especially the spicy character of the grain will begin to become a major component of the final flavor of your beer. At 50% or above the flavors and tartness that Rye imparts is a dominant factor. These concentrations(+50%) of Rye are typically seen in Roggenbiers or in malt bills typical of wheat beers but with Rye substituted for wheat.
Rye is a huskless and small grain that requires special consideration when milling. It is recommended and generally practiced to tighten your mills gap to better crush the grain. It is also sometimes necessary to run the Rye through the mill an additional time to get a good crush. DO NOT OVER CRUSH. We are still looking for a good crush, not flour. Mill your Barley and any other grains separately and as you normally would.
Mashing with Rye presents its own challenges and is most similar to malted wheat or flaked oats. The outer shell of Rye Malt is high in Beta-Glucans and will increase the viscosity of the wort considerably. A malt bill of 10-20% Rye can be mashed by single infusion with no problems, however it will be dependent on your equipment. Over 30% Rye in the malt bill may require a protein rest at 122-124F (50C) for 15 minutes that will help break down some of these proteins and aid in preventing headaches such as a slow or stuck sparge. A couple of handfuls of Rice Hulls added to the mash can also help, especially when a large percentage of the malt bill is Rye and there is a general lack of barley hulls that would normally be present. Finally a good sparge temperature 168-169F (76C) is critical to help lower the viscosity of the wort. Expect a slightly slower sparge then normal with malt bills containing higher percentages of Rye.
Rye is an exciting and refreshing grain to brew with. It may take a little more effort at times however the beer you will be rewarded with will be worth it. Look to Valley Malts Blog for a few fall recipe’s using Rye in September.