Since opening early this year, Karben4 has released about 10 different beers. Brewmaster Ryan Koga likes to tell his patrons he believes in malt-forward beers, yet it's his approach to making bitter brews that's been attracting attention from local hopheads. In February, Koga released Silk Scorpion, an American-style India Black Ale; it will likely return later this year. In May, he unveiled a plan to offer a rotating line of India Pale Ales, debuting with Fantasy Factory IPA. That beer has been such a big hit that Koga now says he's planning on keeping it on all the time.
Despite his recent success with assertively bitter beers, it's SamuRyePA that best reflects Koga's interest in blending malts and hops for unique flavor. One of the first brews he introduced to Madison, it has become a standard offering at Karben4. Even though SamuRyePA is not Koga's hoppiest beer, it's one that says a lot about the mark he's making on the local beer scene.
What is it? SamuRyePA from Karben4 Brewing of Madison, Wisconsin.
Style: SamuRyePA (as in pale ale) is a Rye American pale ale (APA). It's made with modest amounts of rye malt, which lend a lingering dry bitterness. The pale ale is a medium-bodied beer with a firm bitterness in flavor and aroma. English pale ales often have an herbal hop character. In contrast, American pale ales feature American hop varieties, which have a stronger citrus or resiny character. American pale ales generally range from 4.5% to 5.5% ABV.
Background: SamuRyePA is really a signature brew for Karben4. It's the most complex beer that Koga currently makes because of the combination of those three types of rye among the eight total malts. However, what makes this beer distinctive is the rye. "It has a soul to it," says Koga. There are layers of caramel maltiness, biscuit-breadiness and spicy dryness that come with the blending of hops, rye and specialty (German and English) malts in just the right ratios, he explains.
SamuRyePA features American Centennial hops, known for their bright, crisp citrus aroma and bitterness. But it departs from the standard American pale ale with the three different types of malts Koga uses. There's flaked rye, which adds softness to the body; a German malted rye for spicy bitterness; and crystal rye malt, which lends caramel and rye-bread like flavor.
Koga's inspiration for this beer came from his time in Billings, Montana, where he was a brewer at Yellowstone Valley Brewing Company. While there, Koga enjoyed hiking in the mountains, and one of his favorite fireside drinks was made in camp by blending a favorite APA with a rye beer. That blend of was so popular it eventually became the basis for Buffalo Bill Cody Rye Beer, which Koga helped create as a special project for Eric Bischoff Family Brewing. (Fans of World Championship Wrestling might recognize Eric Bischoff from his days in the ring.)
The offbeat name of SamuRyePA starts with Koga's Japanese ancestry -- "SamuRye" puns off "samurai" -- and although it may seem as though "RyePA" echoes "IPA," that echo is unintentional; Koga means only to emphasize the beer's status as a pale ale.
At the brewery, SamuRyePA sells for $5/glass or $12/growler (refill). It's become one of Karben4's most popular beers, especially at downtown bars and restaurants (it's a regular tap offering at Graze, for instance).
Karben4 is getting ready for its first brewery festival: The Dilly Dally. It will be held outside on the brewery's lawn on Saturday, September 7, from 3-6 p.m. The festival will feature the beers of Karben4, Ale Asylum, Capital Brewery, House of Brews, MobCraft, Next Door Brewing, One Barrel Brewing, and Vintage Brewing, along with other beverages from Bos Meadery and Yahara Bay Distillers. Food will be served by from the Tipsy Cow. Tickets to the festival are $35, and can be purchased online.
- Aroma: A light maltiness to the start, with a hint of bready-biscuit. But concentrate and you'll find the citrus hoppiness from the Centennial hops.
- Appearance: Clear copper color; with a medium, soft tan head.
- Texture: Medium bodied, bubbly and round mouthfeel.
- Taste: An overall spicy bitterness that reflects the rye. There's some dry breadiness too. While the rye might soften the edges of the hops, there's still a firm crisp bitterness from the Centennials.
- Finish/Aftertaste: This is where the rye malt lets you know it's there. Rye, when there's too much, can be like chewing on burnt rye toast. But SamuRyePA's finish is a complex blend of hoppiness and dry-spiciness.
Glassware: Karben4 serves SamuRyePA in a large snifter, which focuses the aroma and allows both the hops and the rye to be more noticeable.
Pairs well with: This is a nice companion for the grilled cheese sandwich on the Karben4 menu. The two-year white cheddar, with a spicy tomato jam, really brings out the dryness of the rye malt.
Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: SamuRyePA has the depth and layers of flavor that make it a complex beer. It can be misleading if you're expecting the in-your-face hoppiness of an IPA. Remember, SamuRyePA is pale ale, so there's a more controlled level of bitterness. The rye lends a subtle sophistication by softening the crisp citrus bitterness of the Centennial hops with a light bread-like toastedness that lingers and becomes dry in the finish.
SamuRyePA is a memorable signature beer for Karben4. Rye beers, especially local ones done like this, aren't common. This isn't an easy beer to make, and it reflects Koga's talent as a brewer. He isn't afraid of mixing several types of rye at the risk of a murky-malty mess. This creation displays how a brewer can be motivated by unique recipe challenges. SamuRyePA is a special beer, one not to rushed through. Take your time with a snifter and you'll appreciate it even more.