Saturday, June 13th, 2015

Portland Rye Beer Fest recap

Ron Swarner

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Rye has a long history as a brewer’s grain, but its prevalence in whiskey production has, until recently, overshadowed its use in beer. The explosion of craft brewing has seen rye become a more popular grain that gets used in both traditional styles and new hybrids. Brewers prize the unique dry and spicy character it lends to a beer’s flavor and aroma, and the proteins in rye can also provide a fuller mouthfeel and aid in head formation and retention.

The Rye Beer Fest, a celebration of the revival of rye beers, was held at EastBurn on East Burnside yesterday as part of Portland Beer Week, which runs June 11-21. Festivalgoers could sample — or flat-out go for it with full pints — rye beers from 23 breweries pouring in five different areas of EastBurn, a two-story clubhouse plus patio featuring hanging wicker chairs and a pair of skee-ball lanes in the basement.

As I mentioned yesterday, Rye Beer Fest organizer Kerry Finsand helped brew a rye beer with Spencer Gotter of Lompoc Beer. The result was a delicious citrus-y pale ale Lemon Rye-zome with Sorachi hops and lemongrass.

The Fremont Brewing Company Oola Gin Barrel Aged Rye Saison was one of the better gin barrel beers I’ve tried — a treat since gin usually is not produced or aged in barrels. Aged in gin barrel for six months, this twist on the traditional saison adds in rye to give an earthy balance to the fruity Belgian yeast. This is the beer you want to crack after summiting your first mountain.

My other favorite barrel-aged-rye beer of the day was the Brannon’s Pub & Brewery Barrel Aged Deputation Imperial Red Ale. An onslaught of flavors, from sweet toffee to caramel malts to fruit to I don’t even know. There is so much is happening inside of this beer, it’s as if the brewmasters got together and threw in anything they could find in their cupboards. With every drink, I felt like I discovered something new.

Citrus and herbal hops were very prominent in the nose of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company River Ryed, and the bold hop flavor dominated the flavor of the beer as well. The beer tasted like a classic Sierra Nevada brew, and the peppery spice of the rye balanced the forward hops giving it a dry and delicious finish.

Other notable rye beers I tried were the award-winning Firestone Walker Brewing Wookey Jack, Reuben’s Brews Tea Time IPA with Earl Grey tea additions, Vagabond Brewing Modern Love Rye loaded with hop flavor and the Green Flash Brewing Road Warrior Imperial Rye IPA with a bold dry-hop finish.

I snapped a few photos between sips.