Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Bitter Woman in the Rye

Tyranena Brewing Company
Lake Mills, WI

Style: India Pale Ale (IPA)

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Outstanding within its style.)

As someone who has long praised the virtues of Midwest craft beer, particularly when it comes to my home state of Wisconsin, imagine my surprise when I discovered that one of my favorite local breweries wasn’t what I thought it was. That’s right … it’s Tie-rah-nee-nah, not Tee-rah-nee-nah, as I had long believed. The shock of this discovery, which came after seeing the phonetic spelling of the Lake Mills-based brewer on their website, was as disturbing as the time when I was 8 years old and realized that Santa Claus was in fact a devout Muslim.

But alas, I’m not the only one to mispronounce it. Just about everyone I know that’s familiar with Tyranena says it the same way, which leads me to believe that perhaps the folks in Lake Mills are the ones who don’t know how to pronounce their own name. Regardless, Tyranena has long ranked a solid second on my list of favorite Wisconsin brewers, just below New Glarus, though that ranking is in serious jeopardy thanks to the continued improvement of brewers like Milwaukee’s Lakefront, Amherst’s Central Waters, Madison’s Ale Asylum, Spring Green’s Furthermore, and tiny Arena’s Lake Louie. In this years Midwest Power Rankings, I had Tyranena falling all the way to 10th (they had been as high as 5th at one point), behind Central Waters and with Lakefront breathing down their necks.

The blame for their recent fall, minor as it is, doesn’t entirely lie with the brewery. Tyranena continues to churn out a number of fantastic year-round brews, including the phenomenal Rocky’s Revenge (one of the best brown ales anywhere), Bitter Woman IPA, Stone Teepee Pale Ale, as well as the unique releases in the Brewers Gone Wild Series. But the latter is where things seem to have leveled off. The second half of 2008 and the early months of 2009 saw a lull in the BGW line, ended this spring by the release of Paradise by the Dash Board Lights Doubly Blessed Cherry Porter. While Tyranena seems to have stagnated a bit in recent months, the competition continues to inundate us with a variety of new, creative selections with varying degrees of success.

All this leaves me extremely intrigued about the newest Brewers Gone Wild Release, Bitter Woman in the Rye, which is a twist on Bitter Woman IPA. That twist, as the title implies, is a touch of rye that was first introduced by Tyranena in the early 2008 BGW release Dirty Old Man (perhaps my favorite beer from them). An IPA with a rye component instantly makes Nigel think of Founders phenomenal Red’s Rye, which apparently is now called Red’s Rye P.A. (Nigel didn’t get the memo on that one, as I just noticed it today at the liquor store). Personally I love the spicier flavors brought by the presence of rye, especially in an IPA that already packs a bite. I’m not expecting a masterpiece along the lines of Red’s, but I am very optimistic.

Bitter Woman in the Rye pours beautifully, with a light head of just under an inch that dissipates, leaving a creamy trace at the top throughout and some stickiness on the sides of the glass. An intense copper hue with a hint of fiery red, it’s exactly what I had expected a rye IPA to look like. There’s a marked difference from Red’s Rye, which is an extremely carbonated brew … Bitter Woman in the Rye is relatively lifeless, but I don’t see that as a detriment in any way.

Aromas are pleasant, but could be a touch stronger. The distinct hint of rye is palpable, and plays well with the floral, earthy tones of North American hops reminiscent of the original Bitter Woman. Hops and rye make for a spicy aroma, which is balanced a bit by hints of sweet citrus fruitiness and some light sugars. All in all, a very good aroma.

The flavor is solid, but far from spectacular. It’s Bitter Woman IPA with a hint of rye … exactly as advertised. However, as a Brewers Gone Wild release, I was expecting more (unfair perhaps, but that’s just me). Initial flavors are a tug-o-war between the crisp, floral, citrusy hop zip and the spicy rye notes. The positive side of this is that it creates a complex flavor that can’t totally be pinpointed. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough unique characteristics in either to elevate it to elite standards. My best description is that it’s pleasantly earthy, with a good dose of floral, slightly bitter and piney American hops, with a grainy, spicy hint of rye and distant secondary flavors that include light sugars and fruit. All in all, a very tasty, balanced, earthy, brew that I find enjoyable but far from spectacular. Medium bodied with a relatively strong aftertaste, Bitter Woman in the Rye is a quality brew that could be considered a session beer, though I haven’t tracked down an official ABV (guessing somewhere in the 6 percent range).

I’m settling on a four mug rating after considering a three, thanks mostly to my respect for the original Bitter Woman and the adequate use of rye to enhance a quality brew. There’s no doubt in my mind that this could be better, and much like Paradise by the Dash Board Lights, I’m left feeling a bit let down. However, it does nothing to downgrade a solid brewery and is certainly worth a try. I’m hoping more brewers begin to experiment with rye, as I feel it adds an interesting dynamic to styles that are already complex and flavorful.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on June 21, 2009.
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