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Up In Smoke

August 5, 2010

Add this to the list of things that you wouldn’t think belongs in a beer: smoke.

For the casual beer drinker, I don’t suspect that there are many out there who have found themselves drinking their favorite beer and thinking, “yea this is good, but I wish they had set the ingredients on fire before they brewed it.” It’s really not something that would occur to most people as being good, but smoke beers (or “rauchbiers” as they were originally known in Germany) are becoming more and more common in the American craft beer market, and I for one think that’s awesome.

Some of the first, and still the best examples of traditional German rauchbiers come from the Schlenkerla brewpub in the city of Bamberg, Germany. The “Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbiers” (“authentic Schlenkerla smoked beers”) are created by drying the malt over fires made with beech logs, which imbue the beer with a very pronounced smoky flavor. The end result is a beer that smells like a campfire, with a taste reminiscent of smoked meats, which tastes a whole lot better than it sounds. My favorite is their Marzen, in which the smoked meat flavor is perfectly balanced with the signature malt sweetness of the Marzen-style lager, giving the beer a flavor akin to hickory-smoked bacon. This is probably the kind of beer you can only drink one of in a sitting, but it’s perfect if you’re looking for a beer to kick back with and savor. Schlenkerla also brews a “Helles Lagerbier” (a pale lager, modeled on English pale ales) that is much lighter than their other styles at 4.3% abv. While the grain is not smoked, it still has a slightly smoky flavor due to the fact that it is boiled in the same copper kettles as their smoke beers.

Many American craft breweries are beginning to produce their own versions of the smoke beer, the most well-known of which is probably Stone’s Smoked Porter. At 5.9% abv, it has the familiar qualities of a good porter, like subtle flavors of chocolate and coffee, but the smokiness is almost unnoticeable except for a slightly chalky, ashy aftertaste. It’s a good porter, but not nearly as bold and unique as Schlenkerla’s rauchbiers. There are a few other American smoke beers floating around out there, so here’s hoping that it’s a style that sticks around for a while.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Catie permalink
    August 6, 2010 9:00 am

    I didn’t realize the taste of beer was this vast! I always thought beer was beer…………you are giving me quite an education!!

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