NOTE: In the 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines, Roggenbier has been removed as a separate style and classified as a Historical Style beer.
A Roggenbier, or a German Rye Beer, is one of the few modern beers with ancient origins. Because rye will grow where other cereal grains will not, notably in colder northern latitudes, these areas are where the traditional roggenbier were most popular. These areas include Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, and Slovakia.
Rye is very similar to wheat in that it is planted in the fall and harvested during the summer. Like wheat, it has no husk which gives brewers fits with their lautering.Rye is high in beta-glucans so the resulting mash is usually thicker and stickier.
The history of rye beers is pretty interesting for those who like beer history. Ancient brewers would normally brew with whatever grain grew best in their locale. For those in the colder northern areas of Europe, this meant that rye was used as a brewing grain.
This held true up until about five centuries ago when the Bavarian royalty decided that barley, which was ill suited for making bread, would be the only grain allowed for brewing.
They were concerned that in times of lean harvests, the masses would use their rye harvests for making "liquid bread" instead of making "solid bread" to feed themselves. This thinking was also one of the reasons they came up with the Bavarian Beer Purity Law of 1516. As a result of these laws, roggenbier pretty much disappeared as a style until recently.
Two other traditional rye based beers did, however, survive and are still made in their native countries. One is a low alcohol (0.5 to 1.5% abv) brew brewed in Russia called Kvass. It has such a low alcohol content that it is consumed by the entire family.
The other rye-based beer that survived is the juniper-flavored brew called Sahti which is made in Finland.
It is almost impossible to make a 100% rye beer, so traditionally, only a portion of the grist was rye. The rest was sometimes a mixture of barley malt and wheat.
In medieval times, the grain bill would have been about half barley malt and then equal amounts of rye malt and wheat malt.
Vital Statistics: OG: 1.046 – 1.056 FG: 1.010 – 1.014 IBUs: 10 – 20 SRM: 14 – 19 ABV: 4.5 – 6%.
Rye has been characterized as having the most
assertive flavor of all the cereal grains.
The only requirement for the style is that it include a substantial portion of rye malt so that leaves the percentages up to the brewer.
Roggenbier can have a hint of earthiness in the aroma which reminds you of rye bread. It is inappropriate to add caraway seeds to a roggenbier (as some American brewers do); the rye character is traditionally from the rye grain only.
But the most prominent notes are of spicy, smoky, and faintly sour notes with a definite yeast-derived character from the wheat yeast used to brew it. It is often described as a dunkelweizen made with rye instead of wheat.
When making a Roggenbier, remember, rice hulls are your friend. Especially when the rye in the grist approaches 50% or more.
A beta-glucan rest at 90°F (32°C) is highly recommended to reduce your lautering time. Whether you are employing a decoction mash or a step-infusion mash, try to incorporate the rest in the mash schedule if possible.
Since you will be using a wheat yeast which will produce the typical esters and phenols associated with a weizenbier, proper fermentation temperature is important. To reduce the ester profile (which gives you the bubblegum notes) and enhance the phenol notes (clove in particular), ferment this beer at or near 62°F (17°C).
You might also try using another yeast along with the weizen yeast as an experiment to lower the esters.
Use debittered roasted grains for color and to reduce the roastiness in this beer. A little caramel malt is appropriate for the flavor but be careful not to over-do it and make the beer too sweet. A little residual sweetness is optional but most often these beers finish pretty dry.
The hop presence in this beer should be light, most often only for bittering and possibly a light aroma.
An American-style rye beer should be entered in the Alternative Fermentables specialty category (31A-Alternative Grain Beer).
Other traditional beer styles with enough rye added to give a noticeable rye character should also be entered in the Alternative Fermentables 31A Specialty Category.
References: Information for this article was adapted from the website Germanbeerinstitute.com, The German Beer Portal for North America, the 2008 BJCP Style Guidelines, Brewing Classic Styles 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew, written by Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer, and the Style of the Month article in the August 1997 issue of Brew Your Own magazine by an unknown author.
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