Smoked beers are probably the most divisive style of beer out there. For reasons I have never understood, even people who love smoked foods such as meat and cheese often fail to appreciate the lovely marriage of smoke and malt that these beers bring to the glass. Likewise in Bamberg, Germany, the hometown of this beer where I lived and worked for about 6 months: a lot of smoked beer is consumed and a lot of opinions are slung. Some Bambergers told me that their Rauchbier is the world’s best beer, others described it as “liquid ham” and to be avoided at all costs.
Smoked beers have an interesting history. The smoked beer afficionados in Bamberg told me convincingly that all beers in the past would have been smoked beers, so they were only maintaining an historically accurate brewing style. If you consider the process, this makes a lot of sense: the smokey flavors in Rauchbiers come from the malt; all malt goes through a kilning stage which dries and – where needed – roasts the malt. When making smoked malt, the grains are kilned over a wood fire, so the malt picks up the smokiness during the drying process. Before other sources of heat were available, most if not all malt would have been dried over a wood fire, so pretty much all historical styles would have had a smokey component.
There are a number of styles of smoked beer, from fairly light Lagers to Porters and Stouts, all with their own merits. Rauchbier – the classic style we’re emulating here – is based on Marzen-style lager. Marzen beers are rich, toasty and malty beers that work really well with smokey flavors. We brewed a beer similar to our Oktoberfest, but using smoked malts. I was very much thinking of Schlenerkla’s deeply smokey marzen when I formulated this brew, for those in the know.
This is a really limited beer, with the release matched to our first fire in the new firepit. The beer is available only on draft at the taproom while it lasts. No offence taken if you aren’t into it. More for me.