Super Rye Session IPA

I’m sure you’ve seen these before: Rye IPA. Rye IPA are distinctive for their red color, and what’s noted as a spicy character. I’ve tried a couple Red or Rye IPAs in my day, and haven’t really been impressed. I’ve never really noticed the distinctive “pepper” finish that beer geeks wax poetic about. (This includes a previous batch of rye session IPA homebrew.) So, enter my attempt to brew a Rye IPA so I can finally figure out what all this peppery finish stuff is all about. Why will my own particular homebrew version of a Rye IPA make the difference in me distinguishing all those features that a rye beer? I’m using 50% rye in my grain bill. (The last iteration was just 16% rye.)

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Lemon Session Rye IPA #1

Can I interest you in light-bodied, hoppy brew with a dash of earthy notes? Enter our first attempt at a session – with a bit of an interesting twist. The inspiration for this fun recipe came from a variety of places:

•   access to a unique variety of whole cone hops

•   Frank’s desire for a bright, refreshing fruity beer

•   my very own lemon tree

The Malt

As with our other interesting add-in IPA (where we used basil), we’ve included the specialty grain rye. The amount of rye used in this recipe was relatively small. Therefore, the spicy character of the rye was not noticeable wort. Also, the red color offered by rye was also not present. Our beer showed up as an opaque yellow.

Lemon session Rye IPA homebrew malt for brew in a bag BIAB

The Hops

As with our other mint-inspired recipes, we used whole-cone mintras hops. The zesty character of the hops will compliment the zesty flavor of the lemon zest add-in. The contribution of the hops in the final product is unmistakable.

whole cone hops - edit

The Add-Ins

Besides the hops, home-grown lemons are the special ingredients for this brew. One fifth of an ounce of lemon zest was used for the primary carboy. This went in at the boil. Twice that amount went into the secondary fermenter. It takes about one small-medium lemon to get 0.1 oz. of lemon zest. So, be sure to have enough lemons on hand for this recipe. To stave off contamination, both the lemons and the zesting tool were soaked in sanitizing solution. Lemon zest was collected into a sanitized bowl before going into the secondary carboy.

hops floatila - small

Using whole cone hops in the primary worked fine. There was not an issue from either the size and/or the volume of the whole cone hops used. The hops are able to be be wholly submerged in a boiling pot of wort. However, putting a large volume of whole cones hops into the secondary was an issue. This is because the hops floated on top of the now beer. (It’s no longer wort since the we are already two weeks into fermentation.) In short, a lot of the hops, I believe, were wasted. This is because the hops never had a chance to to physically contact the beer. The extra hops simply floated on top of the other hops. Check out the photo above. Obviously not all of the hops are in contact with the beer.

The Wort

When sampling the wort, the lemon notes were present. The flavor imparted by the lemon zest was most definitely subtle. Even when adding more lemon zest to the secondary fermenter, the final beer is only somewhat lemony. (There are timing issues to add-ins, discussed later.)


The target original gravity was almost spot on for this batch. The difference was so small, that it could be considered negligible: 0.002. The difference in final gravity is more substantial, with the final gravity for the beverage clocking in at 1.020. This is short of the goal of 1.010. The result is an alcohol content short of our target – resulting in a very, very sessionable session ale – because the final ABV will be very low: 3.81%


The Verdict

The hops in this beer are absolutely incredible.  The impart a grassy, earthy flavor. And because there’s lots of hops in there, it’s hard to not notice. I can’t quite tell what the lemon is doing in there – or if it’s even there. But at the very least, it is contributing a pretty, bright opaque yellow hue.

Lemon Session Rye IPA #2

The natural modification on this recipe going forward would be to play with the timing and amount of lemon zest additions. An alternative is to add lemon extract at bottling because it’s:

  • •   simple
  • •   sanitary
  • •   cheap
  • •   gives the extract less time to fade (w/ only two weeks to go before enjoying)

The challenge with re-creating this recipe is that the special hops used may not be available going forward. Any further tweaks to the recipes with respect to the lemons will be an apples-to-oranges comparison because of the change in hops. As a final note, one could also play with the amount of rye used in the malt. Of course, we would not use whole cone hops in the secondary – instead opting for hop pellets, preventing waste.

The Recipe