Second up in my “Ales Bells” series is a beer that takes a twist on the most popular style that has been sweeping this continent: the IPA, or India pale ale. The original IPAs were one of those intentional accidents that grew from innovation by necessity into something that has become anything but an accident. As one story goes, the original IPAs of the world were designed to create a beer that could be transported greater distances, from England to India, without spoiling. Whether true or not, what defined these new beers was a higher presence of alcohol and hops (both of which are preserving agents) and less residual sugar. You might have thought the hops and the herbacious bitterness were just there to alienate those with dislike bitter flavours, but yes, the mighty hop plays a key role in the preservation process. And why “pale,” you ask? This is description of the malts used in the brewing — where darker grains and malts, roasted longer, produced sweeter brews from the caramelization … and darker colours. The “pale malts” on the other hand, produced the original pale ales, a name which stuck.
Enter the Rye IPA, or RyePA as named by La Vache Folle. This is my third official tasting from La Vache Folle and every time I pick up a bottle from the Charevoix microbrewery, I still ask, “Who doesn’t love a laughing cow? I mean really … what’s to hate?”
I absolutely loved their Milk Stout, was pretty high on their DIPA and now I taste their more experimental creation, an IPA made with rye (instead of the traditional barley). This seemed a reasonable way to add some diversity to my ale series.
This isn’t my first rye beer; I previously reviewed a Seiglerie (a “rye bitter”) from Les Brasseurs du Monde … a beer and a brewery I still don’t rate very highly.
So, how does this one rate? I’m still not sure ….
Out of the bottle it pours a beautiful, unfiltered brownish amber which, apart from being unfiltered, is pretty enough to wear around your neck. But that all important first taste? It’s minerals and more than that, I’d say it is iron. At first I thought “What kind of water did they use here?” I thought of the red stained walls of the Saguenay Fjord and wondered if that is what I was tasting … and then there was something in my lizard brain that never forgets stupid bits of trivia and I thought: is that the rye I’m tasting? I asked myself, is rye high in iron? A quick bit of research revealed the answer: yes, rye is an iron-rich food prescribed to people who are anemic. So how do you assess such a flavour, then, in a beer, if you don’t like the taste of iron? I’ve drank enough natural spring waters to know that I like it better than most, but I’m still wondering as I write this if that is a good thing in beer.
The next flavour that emerges is all umami – earthy. Hmm, so my tongue is in free-fall here. Essentially, you have steel to start and then dirt to finish. This is an odd beginning if ever there was one ….
Still, I wasn’t convinced … but I wasn’t running either. That says something. I was intrigued and I drank on….
In the middle two things emerge on my tongue: sweetness (the rye malts) and water. The sweetness is nice … the water, hmm, not so much. This has to be the most thin tasting 6% beer I’ve encountered. I’ll grant you that the brewery is right that it has a “silky body” … but I’d say it was see-through silk if it is wearing anything at all. I suspect this is another attribute of the rye which while it produces a deep, beautiful amber that would suggest a tonne of caramel, it doesn’t taste anything like it looks. The only thing giving this beer any ‘shape’ or body is the carbonation in the middle which is moderate, but pronounced, because really there is nothing else on the dance floor.
So the aftertaste? Not bad … decent hops as you would expect in an IPA. Centennial hops? Palisade? Not sure, but there is a hint of citrus and some floralness that leads me to wonder. The ending is rye again, a bit of spice, a bit of astringency, and more minerality.
As you read this and even as I write this, on many levels you’d think this is as poor beer. Weak, thin, lack of structure or complexity, and a whole lot of minerality. Indeed, on many levels this is a one-dimensional beer that is, in a word, “rye.” However, it drinks surprisingly well – and even better with a piece of pumpernickel and butter to fill the mouth. It is refreshing, smooth, and very easy drinking … and a great choice after coming in from mowing the lawn. The real question isn’t whether it is a good beer – because while it might not be ‘great,’ I think it is quite good – but the real question is, do you like rye?
Stats: Rye IPA. 6% ABV, Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec.
Colour: Dark amber to light brown (unfiltered)
Mouth Feel: Medium carbonation, incredibly creamy middle with a strong bitter finish.
Purchased: Bières du Monde
Pairing Notes: Pumpernickel bread with an excellent butter