Just in case you've been wondering what New Glarus brewmaster Dan Carey might be up to for 2011, he's started the year with a new special release. This one, made in the tradition of a German Rauchbier, has quickly become one of my New Glarus favorites. If you too enjoy malty beers with hints of smokiness, put Smoked Rye on your list to pick up soon.
What is it? Smoked Rye Ale from New Glarus Brewing Company of New Glarus, Wis.
Style: The classic smoked beers were conceived in Bamberg, Germany. Often called a Rauchbier, smoked beers can be made from various styles. The addition of smoke as part of the aroma and flavor should be smooth, giving some mild sweetness to the overall beer. This smoky character comes from malts that are roasted (kilned) by heat from a wood fire, a more traditional method of drying grains before cleaner coke-fire malting became common in the late 1700s.
New Glarus Smoked Rye begins as a brown ale, a style with a deep copper to brown color. The brown ale should have some roasted caramel-like tones on its own. This style may feature some hop aroma, but that hoppiness is found in a low to medium bitterness. They are a balanced but malt-focused beers. They range in alcohol from 4% to 6.4%ABV.
Background: Smoked Rye is a new beer for New Glarus. The smoky tones come from a combination of two different specialty malts. Carey buys applewood smoked malt from Briess Malting Company of Chilton, Wisconsin, along with beechwood smoked male from the Weyermann malting company of Bamberg, Germany. Beechwood kilned malt is often considered the more tradition smoked malt, especially so for its ties to the Bamberg region.
Carey says his recipe additionally features a significant amount of rye malt, which adds some dryness to the beer and helps bring out some of the smoky flavor in the finish. Turbinado sugar, a natural raw, coarse sugar, is also part of the beer's recipe. That sugar is very fermentable, which pushes up the alcohol, making this beer warm and smooth in the end.
New Glarus Smoked Rye Ale is sold in four-packs for around $10.
- Aroma: Mild, but firm evidence of smoked malt.
- Appearance: Deep bronze with ruby highlights. A bubbly tan head.
- Texture: Medium-bodied with a round mouthfeel.
- Taste: Smooth caramel maltiness in the beginning. There is sweetness throughout. The smoked flavor is mostly in the background and finish.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Sweet and lightly smoky.
Glassware: The smoky qualities of the Rauchbier can go a long way, so glassware may not make that much of a difference, especially when the smoke is strong. However, with New Glarus Smoked Rye, the roasted qualities are firm but not overwhelming. The Willy Becher, with its inward taper near the lip, will focus the nose, hold the head and show off the vivid black color and ruby tints.
Pairs well with: The smoky tones are a natural with pork. For a truly Wisconsin original creation, try this beer with Carr Valley's Apple Smoked Cheddar Cheese.
Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four).
The Verdict: Smoked beers are definitely an acquired taste. I generally shy away from heavily smoked Rauchbiers, which seem to taste like a stale cigar. So when I picked up a four-pack of New Glarus Smoked Rye, I was skeptical. Wow, did this beer surprise me! I was happy that I ventured outside my expectations of what a good smoked brown beer could be.
New Glarus Smoked Rye is really quite smooth with dominant caramel malt that combines nicely with some sweetness from the turbinado sugar and warmth of the alcohol. The smokiness actually blends with the malty qualities and becomes an overall accent without snuffing out the other flavors. With its 9.5% ABV, this is a great beer for winter and one to enjoy with a favorite cheese in front of a fire.