In beer, rye has mainly been yoked to darker beers, to spice them and make them hearty. But counter-intuitively, certain breweries also put them in pale ales, and the result is a spicy, dry, quenching beer perfect for a summer day. In the Northwest, the first credit for the style probably goes to Redhook, which brewed a light rye ale more than 15 years ago. It didn't sell well and died out. (Revived for one season a few years ago and then killed off again.) This summer, I note that at least three versions were available: Oakshire Line Dry Rye, Laurelwood Wry, and Three Creeks Stonefly (a regular in their line-up). It could be that these are also flash in the pans, or that we're seeing the shoots of a new fixture in Beervana. I hope it's the latter, because the style is absolutely perfect on a hot day.
Three Creeks Stonefly Rye
The difficulty with rye is that it's a husky, ornery grain, and has been the ruin of many a young beer.
Oakshire Line Dry Rye
Oakshire substitutes honey for Three Creek's wheat. Poured very cold, the spice of the rye and the resin of the hops create a slightly aggressive flavor that seems at turns soapy or piney. But with a bit of warmth, the honey sweetness emerges, and the honey seems to provide a voluptuous creaminess that offsets the sharper notes nicely. I am re-painting my house, and after a few hours of scraping and sanding, I poured this out last night and was so happy to have a refreshing, light beer to slake my thirst. (5.5% 35 IBUs)
Laurelwood Wry Ale
My favorite rye ale comes from Laurelwood, though there may not be any left. This year's batch was on tap only briefly at the brewery, but they did bottle some, too--but you can bookmark it for next year. A drier beer than the first two, the spiciest, and most astringent. Rather than balancing it with wheat or honey, Laurelwood goes with Cascade and Amarillo hops; their citrus marries perfectly with the spice. As you can see from the picture, there's an indelible image on the label. I always forget what the actual name is; to me, it's always Hayseed Rye. (5.6% 40 IBUs)
A bit of summer yet remains. Go forth and have a rye.