Roggenbier is an extremely old style of German beer that pre-dates the Reinheitsgebot, which effectively sent roggenbiers underground by forbidding the use of any other grains but barley in making beer. The beer was, and is still, made with at least fifty percent rye. It's also usually fermented with a hefeweizen yeast strain to even further accentuate the spicy character of the rye in the finished beer.
That spicy flavor is a bit hard to describe. To my taste buds, it comes across as pumpernickel crossed with gingerbread. The beer is also balanced by warm, toasty malts and a twinge of sourdough tanginess. It's typically a rusty-brown color with a smooth, slick mouthfeel.
I've seen this style starting to pop up more and more over the past few years, especially in Americanized variations. It's still pretty rare to find it in the bottle, but look for it on tap at local breweries and pubs. Some of the best roggenbiers I've had have actually been homebrews, and if you're a homebrewer, playing around with this style can be a lot of fun!
Here are a few worth keeping an eye out for:
• Roggenbier, Hop Rod Rye, and Ryevalry from Bear Republic Brewing Co.
• Red's Rye Pale Ale from Founder's Brewing Company
• Rugbrød from The Bruery
• Rich & Dan's Rye IPA from Harpoon Brewery
• Rye Mad Hatter IPA from New Holland Brewing
Which rye beers have you tried?
Related: BrewLab: A CSA for Homebrewed Beer