Pikes Pub: Colorado Springs breweries putting their own twists on unusual styles

February 1, 2017 Updated: February 1, 2017 at 6:36 pm
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The beer list at Storybook Brewing Company in Colorado Springs.

Roggenbier. Heard of it? I hadn't.

Beer Advocate, as usual, has our backs. "A traditional German style rye beer that typically contains very large portions of rye. Expect a very pronounced spiciness and sour-like rye character, malty flavor, and a clean hop character."

You'll be lucky to find it in stores. Of the widely distributed breweries, only a few make one. I've only had the Norns (which is great) at Fate Brewing Company in Boulder. But come springtime - roughly - Bristol will have theirs on tap again.

Mike Bristol, owner of Bristol Brewing Company, asked head brewer Chris Hastings to make a roggenbier. Hastings had never made or even tasted one, but looked it up and "went in blind."

"My roggenbier was 50 percent rye," Hastings said. "Rye's hard to work with. It's got a beta-glucans and things that get really gummy in the mash. We went into it knowing these things.

"I was really happy with how it turned out and the response was great."

Now it's everywhere, but 500 years ago, it was goodbye, rye. According to craftbeer.com, rye beers were once popular in Bavaria, but disappeared when the 1516 Reinheitsgebot - German beer purity law - was adopted. Only barley, hops and water could be used in beer, ostensibly to help bakers, who needed the contraband ingredients more. Confiscation was reportedly the penalty for making "impure" beer. Who wouldn't mind doing that job?

"Roggenbier basically fell off the map because it wasn't legal for them to make it anymore, and it wasn't really until modern times until people started looking at it again," Hastings said.

If rye used to disqualify beer, I wonder what those 16th century Germans would have to say about the Beer Judge Certification Program web page (once we got past the gnarled explanation of the internet) for the braggot style of beverage, which toes the line between mead and beer. Originally, it was a mixture of the two.

Storybook Brewing Company has a braggot on tap this winter, and the Ora Et Labora - brewed in wine barrels and packing a delicious boozy wallop - is still available, if you're craving something new, now.

Brewer Jamon Kennedy said they went off script with this one.

"It's not half and half, but that's the best approximation," Kennedy said. "Our strawberry honey wheat - which has a very high percentage of honey - it's kind of closer to that mix of a mead and a beer. We age it in wine barrels for about 10 months.

"It's not necessarily a perfect fit, but there's not a real strict standard that every beer has to hit."

The roggenbier will have to wait. Hastings sees its ideal time window as unobscured by snow.

"If it were me, that's when I would want it. It's sort of that transition between winter and spring," Hastings said. "Because you get that nice, dark, malty spice from the rye, but you get that super refreshing banana from the yeast, so I think it's a good transition beer."

We've long since said Auf Wiedersehen to the beer blackout. Hastings looks forward to many more aromatic experiments.

"That's the beauty of American craft brewers - law doesn't dictate us. We can do what we want. 'That looks good, let's make it.'"

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