A lot of these Beer of the Week columns seem to involve us rejoicing at the increased popularity of previously neglected beer ingredients. Only a few weeks ago we were hailing smoked malt as the next big thing, and now we’re lapping up rye.
As it happens, I don’t think rye ales were quite as down-and-out as other rejuvenated brews and, conversely, I’m still not sure they’ve been totally embraced by the new wave of brewers, but there’s definitely a lot more of them to be had and that is only a good thing.
We like rye beers; we’ve brewed with rye ourselves (our book contains an approximation of a Viking ale stuffed with rye grains and juniper berries); and we’re both quick to ask for a rye ale should we see one lined up behind a bar. The grain tends to give an unusual spicy sharpness to beers which, when used with care, can create interesting, rich layers of flavours and an extra level of dryness.
Rather than stick ‘rye’ in the beer’s name, as many brewers do, London’s Five Points have called theirs ‘Hook Island Red’. The red bit is obvious: the beer pours with a lovely deep mahogany colour, the kind often labeled as ‘red’ by brewers, with ‘red rye’ being a fairly common beer name in its own right. The Hook Island bit I’m less sure about. I only know it as an Australian Island famed for a monster known as ‘the tadpole creature’, which may or may not be a hoax.*
Five Points own tasting notes describe it as follows: “We think the Rye in the recipe gives some dryness and spice, and the hops add a dash of pine and passion fruit, but see what you think, everyone’s taste buds are different.” That last bit is a good comment because, for all anyone jibbers on about precise flavour profiles of beer (some beer bores will include over 20 specific flavours per beer which is, frankly, ridiculous), no one can really tell anyone else what they’re experiencing.
So here are my tasting notes, dictated by my own unique palette, the curried cauliflower I ate an hour ago, and any subconscious pre-conceptions I have about rye beer that may have a psychological influence on how this beer tastes to me.
I’m getting big flavours, with the rye muddling in with the overall intensity rather than hogging the limelight. Initially it’s fresh and cereal-grainy, like a bowl of boozy muesli, with subtle tropical fruit aromas and a musky woodland essence. But it doesn’t take long for the hops to brazenly stomp all over the scene, showing off with a huge depth of spicy bitterness. It leaves behind a strong, dry finish and light spray of resinous pine, with that sharper grainy taste just about clinging on til the end.
It’s not what I’m used to from rye beers, but that’s far from a complaint. This is a hop and grain powerhouse of a beer with incredible depth. A big, beery, red monster. And no hoax about it.
Brewery: The Five Points Brewing Company, Hackney, London
Beer name: Hook Island Red
Hops used: Chinook, Simcoe, Columbus
*We call ‘hoax’