Many consider Roggenbier to be a lost art of a beer style. This specialty beer first originated in Regensburg, Bavaria as fuller-bodied Dunkelweizen brewed with malted rye instead of malted wheat. It has a grainy, spicy flavor that balances rich malt flavors with crisp hop character at its finish. That balance makes for a perfect food beer.
Craft breweries like Reuben’s Brews in Seattle and FATE Brewing in Boulder are helping to educate American beer drinkers on the unique flavors, drinkability, and food pairing potential of this often forgotten beer style.
Ingredients and Process
Traditional Roggenbiers are brewed with 50 percent rye malt and Noble hops, and fermented with Weizen yeast that imparts the beer’s esters and subtle phenolic notes. “We design our recipes around the finished beer in the glass,” says Adam Robbings, the cofounder and brewmaster at Reuebn’s Brews. “So for Reuben’s Roggenbier it means using a true Hefe yeast, 50 percent Rye, and German Pilsner malts.”
Roggenbier is no easy beer style to make. “German Hefeweizen yeast is difficult to work with in multiple generations, it's ester and phenol character changes over time. The very high levels of rye lead to low efficiency mashes and a propensity to stick,” says Robbings.
At FATE, Norns Roggenbier is brewed using a double decoction mash and more than 50 percent malted rye in the grain bill. “It took us a few tries to get the percentage of rye just right but now we love our Roggenbier,” says Head Brewer Jeff Griffith.
Advice for Homebrewers
Both Robbings and Griffith advocate good fermentation practices for creating the best Roggenbier at home. “With all Hefe yeasts, fermentation is key,” Robbings says. “Good pitch rates, healthy yeast, and a very close control on fermentation temperature is imperative. Too low a temperature and you'll get too much clove, too high and you'll get too much banana. You need to be able to control fermentation very tightly.”
Use lots of rice hulls to ensure smooth lautering, Robbings adds.
“Lautering is going to take longer than usual. If possible, use a mash out step and get your mash up to 168 to 170 degrees Farenheight. The wort will flow better,” Griffith says. “Be patient.”
Robbings and Griffith agree that Roggenbier is a great food beer. “I'd pair with a light salad, with goats cheese,” says Robbings. “A ricotta pasta would work nicely. A banana cake may be interesting—especially if your Roggenbier doesn't have strong banana character, it could help bring that out. Some Roggenbiers are pretty thick, so food that has a little acidity may help cut that a little. Lemon tart could be an interesting juxtaposition!”
“We pair Norns with items all over our menu from salads to burgers to BBQ to desserts. It's definitely a style with some good spice from both the yeast and the rye so savory foods especially pair well."
Small but Vibrant
“Many of our guests had never heard about this style, let alone tasted it,” Griffith says. Without being guided through the experience of trying the beer people may not be sure what they are supposed to be tasting and may therefore not like it as much. This keeps a lot of breweries from brewing it.”
Norns Roggenbier is one of the five core beer styles at FATE. “When we designed our core beer lineup we knew we wanted a beer that featured adjunct grains but we wanted to differentiate and not just brew a Hefe or American Wheat,” Griffith explains. “We love the opportunity to introduce people to something new or to change their minds about something.”
“A lot of people really love the Roggenbier style but it's polarizing it seems,” says Robbings. “Some people don't know what it is, some people don't like the Hefe yeast character. So I think it may always be a small, but vibrant, style.”
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