Roggenbier is an ancient style German Lager that directly translates to rye beer. The best way to dive into this beer style is with a little bit of Roggenbier history, so here we go!
Until the 15th century, it was thought that you would brew beer out of whatever grain grew best in your locale. This idea made rye the popular grain in cooler climates such as Bavaria, Germany, and other parts of northern Europe. At the time, despite being commonly used in beers, rye was also considered the best grain for bread making.
After a series of bad harvests, the rulers at the time developed the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516, which declared that rye was only to go towards making bread, and barely was the only grain allowed for brewing. Unfortunately barely was ill-suited for making bread, so this was the best scenario they could come up with to prevent the masses of rye harvests from going to beer, leaving them unable to feed themselves. After this law was put in place, Roggenbier virtually disappeared for nearly the next 500 years.
In 1980, Roggenbier was revived by a Bavarian brewery, and has since gained popularity, with the craft beer movement on the rise, and many brewers experimenting with rye.
Now, it's time to get into the characteristics and details of the Roggenbier recipe.
When brewing classic styles of Roggenbier, at least 50% of malted rye is used, although modern versions sometimes use 65% or more malted rye. Rye is known for being an assertive flavor, and is extremely difficult to brew with on its own, so more popular grains are often added to beer as well. The average grain bill would be half rye malt, and then equal halves of barely and wheat malts to make up the rest, though a little caramel malt is always appropriate, too. De-bittered roasted grains are used in this process to add color, and reduce the roastiness in the beer, while leaving its spicy, sour, and malty rye characteristics.
For Roggenbier yeast, most examples use only weizen yeast, but some use an additional yeast to lower the esters that form from the weizen. Fermenting with classic weizen yeast imparts the beer with esters and subtle phenolic notes of tart citrus, vanilla, and sometimes bubblegum.
Noble hops are used when brewing Roggenbier beer, adding a light clean hop character. The hops are only used for slight bittering, and possibly a light hop aroma, so Roggenbier is never an overly hoppy brew. The hops can also add an aroma of fruitiness and faint earthiness to the beer.
Roggenbier German Lager's are often 'turbid', which is the fancy word for cloudy. Since this style was around long before filtration was invented in 1878, it is often unfiltered, bottle conditioned, and served highly carbonated.
A Roggenbier has a body that can range from low, to medium-full, and an ABV that can range from 4.5-6%. They are often brewed as seasonal beers, released in summer and autumn. The best Roggenbier glass to enjoy these brews out of is a mug or a pint glass.
Characterized as grainy, spicy, foamy, unfiltered, sessionable, not hoppy, low bitterness brews, Roggenbier pairs well with anything from salads, to barbecue, to burgers, to desserts. Food with high acidity can help to cut through a thicker Roggenbier.
American Roggenbiers have become more popular in the quickly growing craft beer scene, with subtle differences from the traditional German Rye Lager. However, the American style rye beer must be entered as an Alternative Fermentable specialty category (31A-Alternative Grain Beer).
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