For a grain with such wide recognition in popular culture (from the folk song/nursery rhyme "Sing a Song of Sixpence" to the Don McLean rock anthem "American Pie") as well as its status as an undisputed staple for New York delis (aside from the "marble" cousin, is there any other acceptable bread for a Reuben?), one would assume that rye's potential has already been maximized. However, as palettes and techniques have become more refined, rye has enjoyed a renaissance. William Bostwick reported, in The Wall Street Journal, that it has become increasingly popular among brewers not just as an novelty flavor, but as a useful grain for accenting beers.
Even though rye whiskey distilling is a domestic tradition as old as the presidency, reportedly dating back to the 1790's at George Washington's Mount Vernon, VA estate, Americans have only recently discovered rye's beer capabilities. This distinction was initially driven by economics and convenience. Because rye is exceptionally hard to brew (its lack of husk, especially relative to barley, and its many oily proteins render it a "labor of love") and because whiskey has always been more expensive than beer, rye has only recently entered the American beer arena. Across the Atlantic, rye has some beer history, owing to the fact that the European environment is more conducive to rye harvesting than the American setting.
In modern American brewing, it has only recently been discovered that "a little rye goes a long way" in creating a rye ale. In fact, Bear Republic's Hop Rod Rye was the first of its kind when it was introduced in 2000. Only later would the Great American Beer Festival establish a separate category for these "RyePA's." No matter how late the stateside "Eu-rye-ka" moment may have taken place, this is certainly a positive note for American beer enthusiasts who appreciate rye's mellowing effect on hops.
Have you tried rye beer yet?