For those of you who make the regular Saturday pilgrimage to Stillwater Oklahoma during football season, exit 174 is a welcome site. It means that you are that much closer to good food, beer, and tailgating fun before packing Boone Pickens Stadium to cheer on the Cowboys.
If you are of the persuasion to make jokes about OSU being a “little brother” school or if you state emphatically that Bedlam isn't a rivalry (at least not in football), don't worry—I will be reviewing beers out of Norman in due time.
For now, though, I want to talk about what Iron Monk Brewing is doing, because it is definitely something worthwhile for all Oklahomans, no matter where your sports loyalties lie.
Iron Monk’s Exit 174 Rye Pale Ale is somewhat of a unique beer with its use of rye malt, which adds a good amount of complexity to the finished beer. Rye can bring sharp, peppery, and even spicy flavors to any beer style, and I have always felt as though it adds an oily slickness to a beer that is not unpleasant and can help to round out a beer’s flavor.
To get a good understanding of how rye affects a beer's flavor, think about the difference in taste between your standard slice of white bread and a slice of rye bread. Rye is a huskless or “naked” grain and has a tendency to “gum up” a brewer’s mash tun (a container used by brewers for mixing the ground malt with temperature-controlled water) making it a somewhat difficult grain to brew with.
Because of this drawback, brewers who dare to use it will generally not use more than 10-20 percent in their grain bill.
What really makes this Rye Pale Ale cool, in my humble opinion, is the fact that the rye malt for this beer was sourced from Oklahoma.
Brewing and malting in pre-prohibition America was incredibly different than it was after the repeal. Before the American Temperance Society got their way and enacted “the Noble Experiment,” brewing in America was very local. Regional brewers utilized regional malt houses, which produced malts using local grains. After the repeal of prohibition, the few remaining breweries left standing were able to consolidate their power and capture a vast majority of the beer market share in America. This, in turn, gave rise to the industrial macro lagers that this country has been flooded with for decades. Like their brewery counterparts, the malting companies in America became concentrated as well, and local malt houses became a thing of the past.
With the rise of craft beer in America and regional brewers’ desire for local ingredients, entrepreneurial farmers are finding success in reviving their malting practices. This should not be surprising since agrarian culture and brewing culture have had a mutually beneficial relationship forever. There is even a school of thought among some anthropologists that humans stopped hunting and gathering (and settled in places like the Fertile Crescent) for the sole purpose of raising cereal crops for the production of fermented beverages.
What is really great about all of this is that the rye used by Iron Monk Brewing was actually bred by Oklahoma State University! So now without further ado, on to the review.
Exit 174 is a year-round product from Iron Monk Brewing that comes in at 6.2 percent ABV and is listed at 45 IBUs (international bitterness units).
Despite this beer being labeled as a Rye Pale Ale on the can, Iron Monk’s website also refers to this beer as a Rye IPA. With 45 IBUs, this beer would come in near the top of the American Pale Ale category (30-50 IBUs) per the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program), and it would fall under the recommended range for Specialty IPA: Rye IPA category (50-75 IBUs).
Aroma and Appearance
This beer opens up with the citrusy hop aroma that one would expect from an American Pale ale. This style of beer is marked by the usage of American or New World hops, as opposed to the Noble hop characteristics one might find in an English Pale Ale. The beer has great clarity and the color is deep gold to light amber. Also it has a nice soft white head, with tight bubbles, and good head retention. In the aroma, there is a little bit of that spice from the rye lurking around that lets you know this beer has character.
Flavor and Mouthfeel
Exit 174 comes in quickly with a hop flavor that is mostly citrus, with a few little pine and resinous notes, and it has a bitterness that is not unduly harsh. The finish of the beer is exceptionally clean and crisp, and there is a residual bite left on the palate from the use of rye malt. The body of the beer is medium-light and the carbonation is medium, which combine with the flavors to make this a beer that goes down really easily.
What Iron Monk Brewing was able to craft here, is an exceptional beer that is unique in its grain bill, and should be applauded for the use of local ingredients. By adding rye to this American Pale Ale, they have made a beer that differentiates itself from the pack. Even better, they have given regional farmers an opportunity to profit off of a grain that is generally used as a cover crop.
I really like this beer, and it is a great example of why you should always try and drink local. By spending your money on a regional beer, you not only support that brewery, you are supporting countless other local businesses that supply the brewer with ingredients, bottles, stickers, etc.
As we see the pendulum sway away from consolidated brewing powerhouses and back to regional breweries, we will see more variation in product. Drinking local means having more opportunity for flavor experiences that were previously unavailable to the beer drinking public...and that is a great thing for Oklahomans!