In the quaint, historic town of Healdsburg, great things are happening in the world of craft beer, mainly from Bear Republic Brewing Company. This Norgrove-family-owned brewery began as a brasserie (brewpub) in Healdsburg in 1995. By the way, their menu looks simply amazing. In 2006, Bear Republic had grown enough to open a second brewery in Cloverdale, also in Sonoma County. Bear Republic is not a microbrewery; in fact it is a relatively large operation. But it is indeed a craft beer brewery, as its products (all unfiltered) are of very high-quality, and something special. Bear Republic emphasizes brews with heavy hops. As a true hophead myself, I am a huge fan of this company. My current favorite beer of all time — Racer 5 IPA — is a Bear Republic production, so when I had a chance to try their Hop Rod Rye, an IPA brewed partially with rye, I put my mouth in gear and raced to try it.
I am not sure if rye IPA is truly a recognized style of beer, but beers certainly exist like this. Brewing with rye can add a certain spiciness to a beer (like a good Syrah wine) along with a grainy complexity, and an India Pale Ale is made with a high hops content, so I cannot imagine a better and more creative combination than this. Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye (ABV 8.0%) is described by the company as a high-gravity ale, meaning (in simple terms) that the wort had a high amount of sugar, which was consumed by (usually) different strains of yeast to produce a beer whose alcohol-to-water ratio is fairly high. There is debate in the beer community over whether a beer’s specific gravity ends up meaning anything to the consumer, but at this point, beermakers tend to advertise it for enthusiasts. Also, the rye content in Hop Rod Rye is 18%, meaning that the rye will certainly add its own characteristics, but not overwhelmingly so.
Bottle: As with Bear Republic’s other brews, the bottle is 22 ounces and made of dark brown glass. The label is black with bright red and orange lettering, and with the logo of a hot rod car with flames painted on it: a car I wanted to own when I was a young boy!
Pour: The color is a beautiful combination of orange, brown, and golden amber. The head is a full three fingers thick, foamy and pillowy, and dissipates slowly, leaving thick, luscious lacing. This ale is bottle-conditioned (a hallmark of Bear Republic), so there is some lovely sediment at the bottom of the glass.
Aroma: Sniffing this ale’s bouquet is like sniffing a fine Bordeaux. The rye offers a blunt but subtle spiciness and earthy, grainy honesty, while the beautiful varieties of hops offer scents of bitterness, citrus fruits, lush grass, and pine needles, with floral notes. Underneath it all is the faint but present aroma of mildly sweet, malted grains.
Flavor: The flavor does not disappoint, following on the heels of the aroma. It bursts onto your tongue with hops, introducing a clear grapefruit bitterness with grassy pine. On the attack, the standard malt is there with a soft sweetness, and then the bready spiciness of the rye takes over. The finish has a nice yeasty backbone (attributed to the bottle conditioning, I suspect), with a hoppy aftertaste.
Mouthfeel: This is a thick, rich ale, with perfectly moderate-to-strong (but not too strong) carbonation that coats the tongue and leaves you wanting more.
Structure: This ale’s structure is balanced, complex, and complex. I believe that it would stand up well to bottle aging, especially since it is bottle-conditioned.
Food Pairing: I guess it is because of the rye involved, but I think this ale would the absolute perfect compliment to a really great Reuben sandwich. I would also well suit a good gumbo, a braised brisket, or a very strong, veined Stilton cheese.
Overall Rating Out of 5 Possible Beer Mugs: