Sud Savant: Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye – The Peppery Flavors Stand Out

I may be a little late boarding this train, but I had to write a review of a rye this potent. Well, I had a pair of the bottles out of my sixer a few weeks back and they almost turned into sippers. It seemed like it truly was “ruthless!” Instead of most brewers stance of letting the rye stand in for some other malts, Sierra Nevada truly seemed to accentuate and showcase the rye in a beer all its own, not covered up by smoke or syrup or another featured flavor. I’m ready to get this show on the road. Let’s pour!

Aroma 10/12: Not an especially strong aroma present, but does live up to its bottle descriptor. There’s plenty of sweet, earthy rye, which at times is almost reminiscent of cocoa nibs. However, one can quickly replace the cocoa sweetness with the rye’s spiciness and imagine a rough likeness. As the head settles, and not a moment before, the hops become more apparent in a grassy, citrusy blend; a welcome addition to the rye’s spice. The first bottle I had difficulty smelling much of anything, but the second bottle I had, showed much more aroma. I don’t expect that lack on consistency from a larger brewer like Sierra Nevada. However, the second bottle is more in line with what I recall my previous experience with this brew, so I’ve adjusted the score accordingly.

Appearance 3/3: The appearance is nothing less than what we have come to expect from Sierra Nevada. An ample, well-formed, sudsy head with excellent retention adorns a glassful of sienna shades, amber hues, and the unmistakeable color of maple syrup. I wouldn’t normally expect a beer of such high clarity to have such a variety of shades, but clearly I underestimate the body of this beer and the malt/rye content that created it. Careful, not to pour this one too aggressively or you’ll have a monster head on your hands. Tons of lacing.

Flavor 17/20: This beer’s start is sweet, mellow, with a nice bready malt. The backbone arrives gently, but adds the great flavors of rye. The beer quickly becomes more earthy, obtains a bit of citrus sour from the hops, and a bitter that prefers to hang in the background. Slurping the beer really brings the earthiness of the rye forward! Holding the beer in the mouth allows it to foam up enough to cover the tongue and the pepper becomes very apparent. The finish is a stronger bitter, a reprise of the earthy notes, and both of these flavors really allow the peppery flavors to stand out. The aftertaste is milder bitter, but definitely a very dry one. There’s a great hop presence there as well.

Mouthfeel 5/5: Even the bottom half of the bottle has more than enough carbonation for this beer not to lose any of its mojo. The pepper causes quite a bit of prickliness on the tongue and that can be easy to confuse for the carbonation. However, the carbonation is done superbly, and in this beer it can be found as buoyant and bubbly. The body is medium-light and makes no show of the 6.6% ABV.

Overall Impression 8/10: Obviously, this beer ranks highly with any aspect regarding the technical aspects of the brewing (clarity, color, mouthfeel). If there is one thing big breweries can do above an beyond their smaller competitors, it is definitely within those categories. However, the less subjective areas of the beer are more up for grabs. The aroma wasn’t particularly strong (even after a warming) and the flavors were simple, albeit very complimentary. This beer would be very accessable to those that already enjoy Sierra Nevada and enjoy the occasional twist. However, I was expecting something a little more “ruthless” and a little less accommodating.

Total 42/50: This is very drinkable, well-made, and makes excellent use of the complimentary flavors (earthy, sweet rye + bitter hops + pepper). Those flavors all sound pretty dark, but the high clarity, hop citrus, and lively carbonation all keep this beer from becoming boring and monotonous. I enjoyed this beer, but I suppose I was looking for something more to break up the earthy, bitter drudgery. In my head I would’ve liked something akin to a blackstrap molasses, but I know that would take the focus off of the rye. While I really appreciate Sierra Nevada making a beer that focuses more on the rye, perhaps I enjoy it more as an additional flavor, and not so much a featured attraction. This is not fault of the beer however. If you like rye, by all means, pick this bad boy up while you still can! In the meantime, it was something that I’m glad I tried. It focused on a ingredient, I tried it, and I learned something. In tasting, it doesn’t get any better than that.

Joel R. Kolander is the Cheif Blogger for Sud Savant, a beer-savoring blog for the rest of us. We’re not here to get plowed. We’re not here because we are world-famous beer critics. We’re here because we enjoy savoring a great beer with even better friends. Sharing great beer is just as amazing as finding it in the first place. Lets share!