Make Your Best Rye IPA

It's hop-forward, like most IPAs, but it makes use of its grist in a more obvious and substantial way than traditional IPAs. Rye is an excellent brewing grain that you should probably be using more of in general.

Josh Weikert May 6, 2018 - 7 min read

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Sometimes it seems like every beer in the world is an IPA. It isn't true, of course - IPA might be overrepresented on the taps and maybe overused as a marketing term, but it's still true that there are more beers that aren't IPA than are. Don't let any sense you have of IPA-ubiquity stop you from brewing great versions of them yourself, though, especially when they're genuinely unique and interesting.

It's into this boat that I drop Rye IPA. It's hop-forward, like most IPAs, but it makes use of its grist in a more obvious and substantial way than traditional American (or even English) IPAs. Rye is an excellent brewing grain that you should probably be using more of in general, and it pairs nicely with clean, bright hops flavors.

STYLE

Guidelines are just that: guidelines. The 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines get into descriptions of some IPA varieties, including the Rye IPA. They are, in my humble opinion, mistaken in their description of this style, though. My bone of contention is that they seem to deemphasize the role of rye in the Rye IPA. Now, that would seem a bit odd even on its face - imagine if Black IPA was described as being "lightly dark" - but it gets even more so when you've drank the commercial examples they list, which are nearly all patently "rye-ish."

So, in this case, I'd argue for going heavier on the rye character than the guidelines suggest. Aside from that, though, they (accurately) describe a beer that is modestly strong (5.5 up to about 8 percent ABV), pale-to-amber in color (again, a little odd because several of the best examples are straight-up red), and firmly bitter with the assertive hops character we associate with most IPA sub-categories.

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RECIPE

Not every beer is made in the recipe, but this one is. Process still matters, but when I've tried to simplify this recipe by cutting out some ingredients (a good general practice, in my experience), it always gets worse. Start with four pounds of Pilsner malt as a base (you can use standard two-row here, but I don't usually have it on hand - in either case, you won't taste much in the finished product), and add three pounds each of Rye Malt (of course) and Vienna.

Why Vienna? Because it's imperative (and desirable) that people who drink your Rye IPA taste the rye, or at least what they perceive as rye. Over the years I've noticed that people associate the flavor of Vienna malt with a mild spice character that they - wrongly, in lots of beers I've made - attribute to rye. So why not turn into the skid and add it here, too, to augment the Rye Malt?

Then we add a pretty diverse and substantial amount of specialty malts to the grist: one full pound of CaraPils, half a pound each of Crystal 40 and Crystal 80, and a quarter-pound of Victory. These are going to add a lot of complex malt flavors to the finished beer and complement the relatively simple hops picture.

Don't go overboard on the hops. I know that's weird advice in any form of IPA, but I think it's true here, and I'm talking more about the diversity of hops than the amount you're adding: this is Amarillo's show. One ounce each of Amarillo and Northern Brewer (got to love that woodsy aroma of caryophyllene) at 10 minutes should yield you about 40 IBUs. Work backwards from there and "top up" to 60 IBUs total with a small 60-minute bittering addition, then work forward and add an ounce of Amarillo in the whirlpool (or flame-out, if you don't whirlpool - give them about ten minutes of contact time). You'll also be adding an ounce of Amarillo as a dry hop addition, so keep some on hand.

Finally, any clean yeast will do, which means this nearly always gets a German Ale (Wyeast 1007) pitch for me. One word of warning: NO ENGLISH YEASTS HERE. For some reason the flavors don't mesh, and it can be a bit like drinking orange juice after brushing your teeth. That could be an idiosyncratic result on my system/with my water, but why take the chance?

PROCESS

Mash on the longer side (and maybe a little cooler - 150F or so) to encourage a more-fermentable wort. You might also consider adding about half a pound of rice hulls to aid in filtering and avoiding a stuck sparge (thanks, huskless rye…), but I don't. Aside from that, this is a pretty simple beer to make! Add your hops according to the schedule noted in the recipe, chill, pitch, and ferment at about 67F. When you see the bubbling in your airlock more-or-less stop, add your dry hops (I use a free addition of pellets). Wait five days, cold crash, and then rack out from underneath any floating hops and package! I like this beer with a solid amount of carbonation, so target about 2.5 volumes of CO2.

IN CLOSING

Just because there's a lot of something in the market, it doesn't mean you as a homebrewer can't do it better. And, in this case, there are fewer rye beers out there than most other forms of IPA. Rather than chasing the latest "trendy" IPA, double back on this rustic version - I think you'll be glad you did.

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