REVIEW: Ruthless Rye IPA from Sierra Nevada Brewing

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Location: Chico, CA
Style: American IPA
ABV: 6.60%
IBU: 55
Appearance: Coppery-Orange Pour with Off-White Head
Aroma: Crisp, Hop-Forward, Piney Citrus & Peppery Rye
Flavor: Hoppy Freshness mixed with Peppery Rye
Availability: Spring Seasonal — Bottle & Draft
Pairs With: Jerk Chicken, Herb-Roasted Potatoes, Asiago Cheese

I have always been intrigued by the idea of using rye in brewing. Rye is one of the newer domesticated cereal grains, with a record extending back to about 400 B.C., though it grew wild long before being brought into the fold of domestic agriculture. Rye, best known for its use in bread and whiskey, does have a long history as a beer brewing ingredient.

Historically it was used in German roggenbeir (a style of beer made using barely, wheat, and rye) and Finnish sahti (Juniper Beer). It has enjoyed a new rise in brewing use that has greatly coincided with the recent “rise of the craft brewer”. Its ability to thrive in harsh soils and colder temperatures adds something to the allure of this grain and perhaps, it is these conditions that give it its distinctive black pepper taste, a taste that has made a slow yet steady resurgence in the craft brewer’s repertoire.

Most beer drinkers out there will, at the very least, have a passing awareness of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. Most likely, for their Pale Ale. If you are unaware of this brewery I encourage you to peruse their lineup and do some tasting. In fact, we listed them as one of the best brewery tours in the United States. Ruthless Rye was added to the lineup about three years ago replacing Glissade, a golden bock that is now discontinued, as their spring seasonal.

To say I was excited the first time I saw Ruthless Rye in my local grocery store would be a gross understatement. It was the first commercial beer I’d seen that made use of the lowly yet secretive rye… And it was an IPA to boot!

“Aye, seek ye goodness here, in humble hop and ruthless rye.”

Not many things can get me more excited than tasting a new IPA, but those wonderful brewers up at Sierra Nevada Brewing had somehow read my mind, fermented my greatest wish, and sent out something truly remarkable. All these thoughts went through my mind before I ever poured the first bottle or took the first sip.

I wasn’t disappointed that first year and now, for the third year running, I sit down to appreciate this fine beer. Everything about it brings to mind earthy wild land. Even the label speaks of secrets, encroaching wildness, and changes in the land. The label shows a hooded woman holding a scythe, a restless clouded sky above her, and a small house not far off; and is quite a change from the brewery’s classic and usually understated labeling.


Ruthless Rye IPA from Sierra Nevada

The beer pours a clear coppery-orange earthen color, reminding me of the shades of Fall’s changing leaves. The nice, off-white head that forms when first poured drops away quickly to a thin sheen of persistent bubbles.


The aroma is very hop forward, crisp, with the peppery rye playing second fiddle to the clean scent of pine. The hint of citrus is both notable and delightful.


The taste has the hoppy freshness and peppery rye notes vying for dominance. The rye wins out, but not by much. The bitterness is accomplished with Bravo hops and seems a little mild for the style, making this a good candidate for those just wetting their toes in the bitter water of IPA’s. Brushes of citrus peek through the otherwise forested wall of pine and pepper, making brief, hard to track appearances across the palate. Drinking Ruthless Rye at just below room temperature brings out its full range of flavors. Cold temperatures will often rob darker beers of their more subtle flavors.

Tasting Notes

The mouth feel has a nice slight alcoholic warmth, as if playing at reminding me of the much-sought-after fire warmth of the season this beer ushers out. Astringency is found though out and finishes as a dry afterthought in the mouth, which lingers long after the beer is done.

Ruthless Rye remains one of my favorite beers. Every year, as winter slowly fades away and warmer days begin to vie for a rightful position among the cold snaps, I search for this seasonal on my local shelves. Its bold flavors bolster the door against the last chilly throws of winter, yet with its spicy fresh undertones, leans close like an old dear friend, and whispers of coming change and newness just around the next corner.

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Jeff Flowers

About Author

Jeff Flowers has been a self-described beer geek for over a decade now. When he's not chasing his daughter around, you can usually find him drinking a fresh brew and wasting too much of his time on both Google+ & Twitter.

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