All About Beer Magazine - Volume 34, Issue 5
November 1, 2013 By

Rye has become quite the dashing addition to microbrews in recent years. This flavorful, hearty grain is generally cast in a supporting role, but it is emphatic enough to lend a noteworthy performance even in spot duty. Especially common in pale ale and IPA, rye is capable of embellishing many other brews, both top- and bottom-fermented. Rye is also a featured ingredient in two traditional, folksy brews from abroad, Finnish farmhouse sahti and German roggenbier (rye beer), both of which are quite rare in North America.

Rye offers heaps of bready, spicy flavor, but also slick, viscous mouthfeel and full body. The body-building virtue, though, makes rye somewhat difficult to mash. The recent introduction of rye malt extract offers an opportunity for everyone, regardless of brewing level, to craft rye brews and contributes complexity, muscle and quirkiness worthy of exploration.

Using Rye Grain

Like most base brewing grains, rye can be purchased either flaked or malted. Malted rye is far more imposing overall than flaked, so you can choose either an assertive or a subtle rye profile. Standard additions are between 10 and 20 percentof the total grist, enough  for rye to make its mark in flavor, aroma and body, but still keep the mash manageable. Malted rye has no husk and a high protein content. It is notorious for creating a thick, gummy mash, due partly to the protein, but also excessive amounts of beta-glucans.

A multi-step infusion mash, with rice hulls as a filtering aid, is a near necessity, with rests for glucans (105 F, 30 min.), protein (122 F, 30 min.), and saccharification (148-150 F, 60 min.) followed by mash-out (170 F). This schedule will help avoid the aggravating, dreaded stuck mash and create a beneficial thin mash. Saccharification temperature is kept low as rye will contribute sufficient body without mashing for dextrin.

Recirculation (vorlauf) and wort runoff should be done carefully and deliberately. Start the vorlauf very slowly to prevent the grain from lugging against the screen or manifold and clogging. Be patient when filling your kettle, and assiduously maintain sparge water at 170 F.

Malted rye will easily convert itself, so it can be mashed with any other base malt. It is especially chummy with toasty base malts like Vienna and Munich, and premium pale ale malt, all of which are flavorful in their own right.

Flaked rye is treated the same as malted. It will pony up less malty/spicy and more grainy/raw cereal flavor, but still all of the body and mouthfeel as malted rye. This dryish, biscuit character is excellent in paler rye beers. Being flaked, it is pre-gelatinized and easily convertible if combined with standard base malt.

To work with raw rye, buy rye berries in bulk and treat like any other raw cereal grain; crush and cook for about 20 minutes before introduction to the mash.

Rye malt is made by American, English and German maltsters  and found in most homebrew shops. Caramel and chocolate rye malts are also available and can be used to augment all-grain brews or to steep for extract brewing. Bear in mind that excessive amounts of hops or roasted grains would somewhat obscure the flavor of rye. In short, rye flakes or malt can be used to enhance nearly any beer if done with discretion and forethought. This column is far too abridged to even begin to describe and explore the possibilities: That will be your job.

Rye Extract

Since extract brewing excludes the use of flaked or malted rye, these brewers were heretofore limited to using rye specialty grains, and without options for rye as a fermentable component. Enter liquid rye malt extract from Briess Malt & Ingredients of Chilton, WI, whose  products have long graced the mash tuns and kettles of North American micro and homebrewers. Its rye malt extract has been on the market for about two years and contains 20  percent rye malt, along with 70 percent pale malt and 10 percent 40ºL caramel malt. It is coincidentally about the perfect measure of rye for any ale, stout, porter or lager, without the headaches and fuss of mashing with rye.

Rye malt extract can fly solo, without specialty malts, hopped and yeasted/fermented as you wish. The color is listed as about 9°L at OG 1.050, and has all of the intrinsic attributes of body, flavor, aroma and depth. Alone, rye extract will make admirable mild, bitter, pale ale, IPA, amber lager or top-fermented German beer similar to altbier. Of course, it can be cut with other extracts, but the rye character will be diluted and/or masked.

Simple brewing options for rye extract plus steeping grains are amber ale (dark crystal), brown ale (chocolate malt), porter (black patent, chocolate malt), stout (roasted barley, dark crystal) or schwarzbier (Carafa®). Belgian dubbel or quadrupel, rye extract, special B, dark crystal and/or chocolate malt, are also not out of the equation. Don’t forget about incorporating some rye caramel or chocolate malt into these recipes.

For partial-mashers, rye malt extract is a godsend. The combination of rye malt extract and a well-planned side mash makes the brewing possibilities nearly endless.

German Roggenbier

Authentic roggenbiers have nearly vanished in North America and are rare even in Germany. They are basically brewed like weizenbier, with the color nearer that of dunkelweizen. Be warned, they can be quite daunting to brew, as the traditional measure of rye malt is between 40 and 60 percent, making the runoff potentially difficult. I tend to stay on the lower end of that parameter, using 40 percent rye malt along with 20 percent Munich malt, 35 percent pilsner malt and 5 percent Caramunich II or III. OG should be 1.050 to 1.055. The blend of rye and Munich malt is a magic one, to be sure. Increasing the gravity to bock strength would make a stellar roggenbock.

By following the step infusion schedule above, you’ll produce a thin conversion mash, perfect for dealing with the viscous nature of rye. Patience and time is truly virtuous in mashing and will segue into trouble-free vorlauf and kettle runoff. Hop in the 10 to 20 IBU range—a little noble hop flavor is a fine accent. Ferment with Bavarian weizen yeast, which produces the familiar clove, banana and vanilla esters, exquisitely flattering the spicy, malty character of the rye. Extract brewers are stuck with the 20 percent rye wort percentage, but this doesn’t mean you can’t make a reasonable roggenbier with rye malt extract alone. It’s worth a try. Partial-mash brewers can use rye extract  and a side mash of pale, Munich or pilsner and rye malt.


Few beer styles are brewed as diligently in rustic, homebrewed farmhouse fashion as sahti. Most are brewed in nano quantities for celebrations and weddings by local brewers, using wooden, juniper bough-lined troughs (kuurna) to mash and lauter, and fermented with baker’s yeast without boiling in a stilted wooden tub fitted with a spigot for serving right from the fermenter. The juniper boughs add flavor and some antiseptic effect, and hops are scant. The OG is about 1.075. Can it get any more rudimentary than that?

Rye is still an essential ingredient in true sahti. Malted rye is most authentic, but flaked or raw can also be used. To craft a proper one at home, use about 10 to 20 percent rye, 70 to 80 percent pale malt, and 10 percent crystal rye for all-grain grist. Conveniently, this ratio also means that rye malt extract will suffice nicely.

With a regular mash tun, you won’t need juniper boughs to filter and lauter as in the kuurna, but you could still lace the mash with them or freshly crushed berries. I suspect that berries will be most convenient, but if you have access to boughs, go for it. I’d recommend an ounce or two of berries per 5 gallons of wort, or foot or so of bough, including berries if possible.

As for fermentation, you could run the wort directly into the fermenter and take your chances, or you could boil for 20 minutes to pasteurize just to be safe (and prudent). Ferment with Bavarian weizen yeast, or try baking yeast with a gallon of the wort to experiment. Mash hop or first-wort hop with an ounce of German hops. Serve young, raw and rambunctious.

If you enjoy the trendy and delicious rye beers available these days or want to tackle sahti or roggenbier, seize the opportunity to homebrew them. Rye knows few boundaries, and whether it is an indigenous Euro version or nouveau micro you seek, they are there for the brewing. Carpe cerevisiae!

Ryeburst Pale Ale

(extract, 5 gallons, OG 1.053, 50 IBU)

Dissolve 7.5# rye malt extract in 6 gallons of water, add 1 oz Cascade hops and bring to a boil.

Hop schedule:
0.5 oz Citra hops,
45 and 30 minutes

0.5 oz Simcoe hops, 15 minutes

1 oz Cascade and 0.5 oz Simcoe hops, 0 minutes

Turn off the heat and allow the wort to stand for 15 minutes before chilling.

Chill wort to pitching temperature and ferment with your favorite American ale yeast.

Classic Roggenbier

(partial-mash, 5 gallons, OG 1.053, 18 IBU)

Mash at 152 F:

2# each rye malt and Munich malt,
1# Caramunich® I, 0.5# rice hulls.Collect wort and add 4# rye malt extract.

Hop schedule: 

1 oz Tettnanger or Hallertauer hops,
60 minutes

1 oz Hallertauer or Tettnanger hops,
15 minutes (optional)

Ferment with Wyeast 3068
or White Labs WLP300

London Rye Porter 

(all-grain, 5 gallons, OG 1.055, 30 IBU)

Mash at 150ºF:

0.5# black patent malt

0.5# rye chocolate malt

0.75# medium crystal or crystal rye malt

2# flaked or malted rye malt

8# British pale ale malt

Hop schedule:

1.5 oz Fuggles, 60 minutes

0.5 oz Fuggles hops, 20 minutes

1.0 oz East Kent Golding hops, 5 minutes

Ferment with Wyeast 1028 or 1098, or White Labs WLP013 or WLP002.

Honey Blonde 

(All-grain, 5 gallons,
OG 1.055, 27 IBU)

Mash 7# pilsner malt and 2#
Vienna malt for 1 hour at 150ºF

Hop schedule:

1 oz East Kent Goldings,
60 minutes

1 oz Styrian Goldings, 20 minutes

1 oz Czech Saaz and 1# orange blossom or clover honey at knockout

Ferment with Wyeast 1214,
3787 or 3522 or White Labs WLP500, 530 or 550.

To make a tripel from this recipe, OG 1.085 and 35 IBU, use 11#
pilsner and 3# Vienna malt,
increase hop additions to 1.5 oz and use 1.5# of honey.


(extract/specialty grain, 5 gallons,
OG 1.070, 30 IBU)

Steep 1# Caramunich 80, 0.5# Aromatic and 0.25# Special B for 20 minutes at 155º F
Rinse grains to collect wort and add 4# extra light DME and 3# Munich or Amber LME and bring to a boil

Hop schedule:

1 oz Perle, 60 minutes

1 oz Styrian Goldings, 20 minutes

Add 1# turbinado, demerara, piloncillo, dark honey or jaggery during the last 10 minutes of the boil

Ferment with Wyeast 1762 or White Labs WLP540

For all-grain, mash the specialty malts with 8# pilsner and 4# Munich malt for one hour at 148ºF. To make a quadrupel (OG 1.090, 40 IBU), increase extract to 10# total and increase specialty malt, hop and sugar additions by 1.5X.