A rye beer is any beer that incorporates rye, usually malted rye.
How much Rye and how it tastes
There are no laws to state that the quantity of rye should be above some minimum, so some rye beers include just a few percent of the malt bill as rye, while others such as Roggenbier base their entire flavor profile on rye, using over 50% rye malt. With such a large difference in the grain bill and the amount of rye, the two beers taste very different.
When rye is added to beer between 10-20% of the grain bill, it gives a pleasant spiciness and bread-like quality to the beer that blends well with most hop types, particularly spicy or citrussy hops. Rye can also add some dryness to the aftertaste.
Above 20% the spiciness becomes progressively more assertive and the beer fuller, more earthy and hearty, and perhaps not unsurprisingly, tastes similar to rye bread.
Rye beers show considerable variation. Rye is a versatile ingredient, which has become increasingly popular recently with craft brewers, so there is no longer a common theme underlying rye beers, other than the rye itself. In fact, even the rye can vary. New malts are appearing, such as crystal rye which give a new flavor dimension to beers - crystal rye provides some of the spiciness of malted rye with dark fruits, and a pleasant dryness in the finish. This means the brewer can make a rye beer from:
- malted rye
- flaked (unmalted) rye
- crystal rye
Rye is becoming at least as versatile as wheat, if not in fact more so. While most Wheat beers focus on the esters and phenolics produced by the yeast (banana/clove), Rye beers have the freedom to exploit the full spectrum of beer flavors and are not constrained by adherence to a particular style entrenched in tradition.
But will you like some other rye beer having tried one?
If you don't like the taste of rye in beer, then there's a good chance you won't like most rye beers, since the rye flavor is most likely going to be present. However, if you do like the taste of rye, there is still no saying up front that you will like any rye beer simply due to the diversity of beers that can be brewed with rye.