1 October, 2012
Rye, it’s a bastard.
Its lack of husk, high water retention capacity and high beta-glucan content mean rye is notoriously difficult to brew with. In simple terms it can convert a brewer’s mash (the porridge like mixture of hot water and crushed grain designed to convert starch into sugar) into a giant vat of gluggy jello, making it almost impossible to run off the sweet wort needed to make beer. There are cautionary tales among brewing circles of rye brews lasting days while their brewers sit rocking back and forth in a fetal position, sobbing.
But despite, or perhaps even because of the difficulties it causes, rye holds a special place in brewing lore. It delivers a unique and distinctive spice character to the beers it’s used in, but I suspect that, like eating puffer fish, its popularity has something to do with courting danger.
With a few rye beers under our belt on the pilot plant I was feeling pretty confident, even cocky, about brewing a batch on our big kit. Summer Sommer, our first rye beer, brewed with Kjetil from the Norwegian brewery Nøgne Ø, was a bit of a bastard to run off - but I was pretty sure I’d improved my technique, pretty sure I’d dodge the rye bullet.
Normally the run off from the mash takes a couple of hours. By hour seven of my rye run off I was feeling decidedly less cocky. Bastard rye. This was shaping up to be a nightmare brew.
It was particularly interesting to chart my mood with the slow realization that this was going to be a terminally slow run off. I was reminded of a ghastly human resource workshop I was forced to attend when I worked for Lion Nathan in Australia. In this workshop we were introduced to SARAH - a description of people’s reaction to traumatic events (S-hock; A-nger; R-ejection; A-cceptance; H- ealing). What I thought was interesting was that after reaching a state of calm at around hour 9 (which I assumed was H-ealing) I seemed to go back to S and start all over again. It’s personality flaws like this that meant I would never be a good Lion Nathan employee.
At hour 13 of trickling slow run off I decided I had enough, in more ways than one, and started the boil. I have to say that after a 13 hour run off a one hour boil just seems like an anti climax.
Now the funny thing is that we brew two days in a row to fill our fermenters, so with the brew finally done and dusted by the small hours of the morning, I crawled home with the knowledge that in a couple of hours I’d have to be back at the brewery to do it all over again.
I arrived back at the brewery feeling significantly less cocky. Now, I’m not normally big on the whole modernist ideal of man’s dominance over nature, but after a 19 hour brew day the day before I was keen to bring the full power of science to bear on this beer. This time I made a separate mash for the rye with not one but two protein rests designed to break down those troublesome beta glucans which had ruined my run-off the day before. I then added this to the main mash and this time success – a respectable four hour run off, and a warm slightly smug feeling. In your face rye.
This Tuesday night you can taste the first installment of Bastard Rye as part of our 24 More series at Hashigo Zake. The lion’s share of this beer has been tucked away to mature in Maker’s Mark bourbon barrels, but we pulled out a small portion that we have been quietly resting on raspberries. At 11% abv this is one of the strongest Garage beers so far, so strong it seems to cling to the glass. The result is a boozie hit of rye spice and berry character, blonde but with a definite raspberry tint. With an alcohol content this high, although it was brewed almost four months ago now, it still seems ‘young’ to me. It’s great fun to try now, and it will be fascinating to see what happens to the beer as it ages in our bourbon barrels.
A proper bastard to brew certainly - but well worth the effort.