Over the past couple months I have found the latter applies to new Medicine Hat brewery Hell’s Basement Ryes Against the Machine. I tried it on my initial visit to the brewery (read my profile here) and found it interesting but it didn’t particularly stand out to me. At the time it was a seasonal, but its popularity has led to its addition in their permanent line-up.
I picked up a six pack before Xmas and have been slowly working my way through it. I must admit after each can, I find myself increasingly impressed by this beer. It is not perfect by any means, but my appreciation of it has increased notably. I recently picked up a second six pack – just because – which says something.
The beer presents dark burgundy brown with good clarity. It has a consistent if somewhat lazy layer of light tan head. The beer looks calm and inviting. The aroma is fairly quiet but offers light nut, caramel and chocolate, some generic fruitiness and hints of an earthy graininess. The smell reminds me a bit of cola.
The front has a classic brown ale taste. I pick up some nut, brown sugar, along with hints of toffee and caramel accented by touches of milk chocolate. The middle offers an earthy grain and a touch of fruity ester. As it moves back I get a sharpening of the malt character with a touch of spiciness. Just a bit, enough to add a touch of complexity to the palate, but not to be distracting.
Without the rye it would likely be a decent brown ale. The addition of rye adds an interesting angular character to the beer. In the end the rye quality is fairly modest – any more would throw off the balance of the beer – but it clearly leaves its mark. It slightly sharpens the body, in particular in the latter half, adds a hint of spiciness in the linger and dries out the finish for good measure.
For people looking for bold, assertive rye ales you might end up being a bit disappointed. But I am growing to appreciate the subtle balance in this beer. Hell’s Basement finds a way to make it accessible and multi-dimensional at the same time. And that is no small feat.