The easiest way to upset a self-identified Beer Geek is to point out the nipple-blood that's soaked through his couple-of-Xs-too-small "Water & Barley & Hops & Yeast" t-shirt. After that, you might as well compound the problem by pointing out that lots of great beers contain all sorts of extra ingredients not found on his shirt. In addition to barley, exceptional beers are routinely produced with the aid of wheat, oats, and rye. I've also had good beers made with corn, though I can't think of a great one; I don't know of any particularly good beers that employ rice, but there's no reason one can't exist. (Nipple blood is not good for beer.)
Barley is the best and most important beer-making grain, but even the most pedantic geeks freely admit it's far from the only legitimate one (they just don't need to be reminded of this while still wearing their bloody, inaccurate t-shirts). They know that without wheat, we would have no hefeweizens or goses, and they appreciate the brave oats that sacrifice their lives in the production some of our finest stouts.
So while "American adjunct lager" is still a derisive term referring to the macro-crap that employs whatever barley-stretcher happens to be cheapest on the commodity market on brew day, the practice of augmenting your barley with other grains, fruits, and herbs is now widely accepted. But if the geeks have softened their anti-adjunct stance, that's only given them more time and energy to rail against what they see as the marketing ploy of labeling any remotely hoppy beer an "[Adjective] IPA."
In the past few years, brewers have sought to capitalize on the popularity of the best-selling craft beer style by introducing white IPAs (hoppy wheat beers), black IPAs (hoppy roasted-malt beers), session IPAs (hoppy low-ABV beers), pumpkin IPAs (hoppy nutmeg beers), and red IPAs (hoppy amber ales). I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with these beers, and I'm not offended by the marketing hustle aspect of it, but I can't say that I've loved a ton of the ones I've tried. Harpoon's Long Thaw white IPA is really good, and I've been pretty vocal in my support of the better session IPAs, such as Founders All Day, Stone Go-To, and Notch Left of the Dial. I haven't found my ideal black IPA yet, though that would change immediately if Victory decided to tack "IPA" onto their generously hopped Storm King Imperial Stout. I don't like a lot of red beers in general, but I'm willing to believe hops could help.
Rye might be my favorite non-barley beer grain, which is why my preferred hybrid IPAs tend to be of the rye variety. It adds a spicy, peppery kick to the malt, which is dangerous when combined with injudicious hopping—bad rye IPAs can resemble overblown imperial pilsners, with too much spice and not nearly enough of anything else—but in the right hands it can produce a beer with an extra dimension to augment the traditional pine/citrus American IPA character.
Bear Republic's Hop Rod Rye is an excellent example of the style, in addition to being a good value at $5.95 for 22 ounces of primo eight-percent-ABV beer. I like Bear Republic Racer 5, their base-model IPA, and the Hop Rod Rye is even better, because the spicy rye kick helps hide some of the sweet booziness that consigns Racer 5 to the ranks of the merely "very good."
Hop Rod opens with a sugary caramel note that is quickly overtaken by a big wave of floral hops and spicy rye. The hops grow more assertive as the beer opens up, eventually taking on a characteristic West Coast pine-and-grapefruit flavor that carries through the long, dry finish. But despite all the hops, the grain bill's 18-percent rye never gets lost, adding a peppery, bread-y edge to the proceedings from start to finish.
Rye and hops are a logical pairing, and Bear Republic matches them to near perfection.
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Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has visited all of the other New England states, including, come to think of it, Vermont. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain. Image by Jim Cooke.
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