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Beer Town: I Heart Rye

Call me a little slow, but sometimes it takes me a while to realize how much I like something. Then I need to figure out why I like it.

Rye is the most recent example.

I’m a big fan of rye bread, especially as a delivery system for corned beef or pastrami or ham. I’ve been mixing Manhattans with rye whiskey for years. And I’ve been drinking Terrapin Rye Pale Ale since it was first released in 2002.

But it finally occurred to me that I’m drawn to stuff made with rye in an almost unconscious way.

Founders Red's Rye

Founders Red's Rye

Put a beer menu in front of me, and if Founders Red’s Rye is on the list, I’ll be compelled to order it — maybe even in lieu of some beer geek rarity, like Bell’s Hopslam.

The same goes for rye whiskey. If a cocktail menu features a Manhattan, Sazerac, Toronto or Ward 8, I’m almost magnetically inclined to test the bartender’s skills.

What is it that I find so compelling about rye? Maybe it’s because rye adds a dry, spicy character that’s zesty and a tad edgy, especially compared with the sweeter, smoother presence of barley in beer and corn in straight bourbon whiskey. And then there are those slightly sour, bready notes, much like rye bread.

Right now, there aren’t a lot of rye beers available in Atlanta. Beyond Terrapin Rye and Founders Red’s Rye, look for Shmaltz’s huge Bittersweet Lenny’s R.I.P.A. and Great Divide’s seasonal Hoss Rye Lager. New on the scene, Sierra Nevada’s Ruthless Rye IPA fills a nice rye niche as a spring seasonal with an appealing hop profile.

Big news locally, Sweetwater’s seasonal charity beer, Crank Tank Rye’d Ale, will become a year-round offering in June. Renamed LowRyeder, it will still be brewed with 25 percent rye malt and Mount Hood and Centennial hops.

There are plenty of great rye whiskeys to found in beverage stores around metro Atlanta — from bargain-priced standby Old Overholt and too-scarce Rittenhouse Straight 100 Proof, to the pleasures of Bulleit, High West, Michter’s, Redemption and Sazerac.

Jefferson's Rye

Jefferson's Rye

I’ve been impressed with the newish Jeffferson’s Straight Rye Whiskey, a bold and spicy 94 proof, 10-year-old whiskey distilled from 100 percent North American rye that retails for around $40.

Apparently so are the guys at Holman & Finch, who bought a Jefferson’s Rye barrel and had it bottled as a special H&F limited edition. You can find it for sale at H&F Bottle Shop and at the bar at Holman & Finch, where you’ll also find some intriguing rye cocktails.

Awry One is mixed with H&F’s Jefferson’s 10-year rye, Luxardo Bitter, Regan’s Orange Bitters and lemon.

Quarter Till features Redemption rye, Combier, Herbsaint, honey-pepper syrup, lemon and Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye, making for something like a rye whiskey-meets-rye beer lover’s dream.

Speaking of cocktails and beer, look for my AJC creation at Sweetwater’s charity Brew Your Cask Off festival March 10. This year, I’m trying out the classic flavors of the Toronto, including rye whiskey, Fernet Branca, orange bitters and simple syrup, aged on oak in a cask of Sweetwater Porter.

What’s your favorite rye, be it beer or whiskey?

— Bob Townsend, AJC Drink blog

4 comments Add your comment

Crawford Moran

March 2nd, 2012
10:39 am

I especially have come to love rye in some of the bigger beers that I cellar. The spiciness is a nice complement to the fruity/sherry flavors that develop with age. Many of the beers that I lay down I brew with Belgian yeasts and those flavors work great with rye – whether young or cellared.

Hindu Elvis Pimp

March 2nd, 2012
11:37 am

High West is an excellent rye whiskey. The Founders Red’s Rye is my favorite rye beer. I brewed red rye ale much like it. The trick is Amarillo hops…..And at least 20% rye. Crisp, clean and spicy.

Rye Rules

March 2nd, 2012
11:26 pm

Rye is a great grain to utilize. I am enjoying a High West rye as of late. I also brewed a red rye ale that is quite tasty. Fresh, crisp and spicy.

Thanks for bringing this subject to the forefront!

Rye Rules

March 2nd, 2012
11:29 pm

I love fermented rye beverage. High West is my favorite spirit so far. I just bottled a red rye ale inspired by Founders Red’s Rye Ale.

One thing about brewing with rye. It is very gummy, so add some rice hulls to prevent a stuck sparge. I learned that the hard way.