This week’s beer is Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye IPA. While we featured an IPA a couple months ago, the use of rye in this week’s beer gives us a chance to take a look at a relatively uncommon ingredient used in making beer to see what it has to bring to the table. The Sierra Nevada Brewing Company was established in 1979 by a pair of homebrewers in Chico, California and is today one of the largest brewers in the U.S. The brewery is credited with being one of the most influential players in the craft beer movement of the 80s and 90s.
Rye has long been used as a staple grain mostly for making bread, due in part to its ability to grow in relatively poor soil and cold temperatures. In Germany, its use in roggenbier (“rye beer”) was once common, but a beer purity law enacted in 1516 made it illegal to use any grain except barley so that bakers, who relied on rye and wheat, could continue to sell affordable bread. It wasn’t until 1988 that the style was revived in Bavaria. Nowadays, the use of rye is gaining popularity among homebrewers and craft brewers. Rye is said to add dryness and a black pepper-like spiciness to beer.
Ruthless Rye IPA is made with four hop varieties: Nugget, Chinook, Citra, and Equinox. Nugget is a spicy and herbal variety used for bittering. Chinook, Citra, and Equinox are all used by the brewery for late- or dry-hopping, meaning they are added towards then end of the boil or directly to the fermenter in order to retain more of the aromatic oils which would otherwise be lost to evaporation. Chinook is spicy and very piney, Citra is citrusy and tropical fruit-like, and Equinox is citrusy, tropical fruit-like, floral, and herbal. In addition to rye, the malts used are two-row pale, caramel, and chocolate.
American IPAs tend to showcase American hop varieties, which are typically citrusy, floral, perfume-like, piney, and/or fruity. While American IPAs are usually less malty than their English counterparts, some clean, sweet malt should provide balance for the strong bitterness.
Ruthless Rye IPA has a slightly hazy, medium copper appearance with a long-lasting, rocky, off-white head. The aroma offers a pleasant and balanced mix of citrus, pine, and caramel with an undertone of bread. The flavor is sweet and grainy up front, followed swiftly by a wave of bitter pine resin and grapefruit. The sweet malt is noticeable even as the bitterness envelops the tongue. The mouthfeel is crisp and somewhat light but filled out by moderate carbonation. There is a prolonged acrid woodiness in the finish.
Overall, the aroma is very pleasant and captures both the hops and the malt very well, while the flavor is dominated by the pine-like bitterness with significant malt in support. The hops in the flavor are not as citrusy as in the aroma. As for the rye, it’s hard to say whether its contribution is significant. It’s very understated and comes across as a subtle hint of charred wood. Nevertheless, the rye does seem to achieve its purported aim of adding dryness and complexity. On the other hand, it’s so subtle that it would possibly go unnoticed were it not mentioned in the product’s name.
This week’s beer was purchased at Sake Taniguchi in Kita-senju, Tokyo.