Thursday, March 22, 2012


For some, the taste of smoke in their beer can be an acquired tasted. Historically speaking, most beer at one time would have had at least some smokiness in the flavor and aroma. Before the use of fossil fuels, the grains used in making beer would have been dried over some type of wood (or peat if we’re talking Scottish beers). That smoke would have permeated the flavor of the barley and inevitably the beer.

Today, most maltsters use modern means to dry their grains, but a few continue to create a variety of smoked malts for beers in which that touch of char layers on another dimension of flavor.

I love smoked beers done right. The flavors are intense and you might never find a more perfect pairing for smoked meats and barbeque. For a long time I have been a fan of the Schlenkerla beers, a particular brewery in Bamberg, Germany specializing in smoked beers, or Rauchbier.

Almost any beer style can beer a Rauchbier. Schlenkerla produces a Smoked Lager, Weizen, Bock, Märzen and a few other specialties.

For me, I love a Rauchbier with a big malty backbone. I find that the flavor of the smoke is better supported by the sweetness of the malt and the overall flavor reminds me a lot like smoked, honey-glazed ham—not even kidding.

I recently came back to the beer that was the very first smoked beer I tried: Schlenkerla Urbock.

The beer pours a dark cola-like color with a tan head.

Deep smoky aromas, woodsy, hints of smoked bacon or beef jerky. Malty sweetness pulls from the depths for balance.

The flavor is reminiscent of smoked ham with a sweet glaze, hints of wood throughout with a long lingering smokiness. Some mild hints of cocoa are present to fill in the gaps, but this beer is really all about the smoke.

If you like big bold flavors I highly recommend drinking these beers. A number of craft brewers play around with smoked malts and Rauchbier, but they are sometimes a bit hesitant to give the beers the full treatment. One exception that I tried recently was a beer from the Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams). Their Cinder Bock is very similar in flavor to Schlenkerla’s Urbock with a higher ABV. The same sweet smokiness is present and they aren’t afraid to make it the centerpiece of the beer. With domestic Rauchbier few and far between, it’s nice to see a brewery as large as Boston Beer Company produce a Rauchbier as unflinchingly bold as this one. Find it. Get it. Drink it. Enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. "Historically speaking, most beer at one time would have had at least some smokiness in the flavor and aroma."

    Let me clarify "most."

    Unless it was dried by the sun the only way to malt barley would have been by fire. Drying barley by sun would have been incredibly difficult to do with any consistency in traditional beer producing nations like Great Britain and the Low Countries.

    I've no doubt that places like ancient Egypt harnessed the power of the sun to dry their grain, but for the MOST part and for a large part of the history of beer grain was malted using wood.

    And as I mentioned above peat would have been the fuel of choice for Scotland and perhaps Ireland, Scandinavia and Russia.