Rauchbier (German for “smoke-beer”) means that a beer has been produced using smoked malts. These beers probably originated in Germany in the Middle Ages before modern techniques existed for drying malts — the smoke from beechwood or oak fires would add flavor to the malts of most beers, thus producing a delicious, smoky flavor. Today these beers are produced intentionally, with smoked malts and yeasts that continue the tradition of brewing beers that taste like bacon (yum!). That’s right, they really do taste a lot like bacon! Not surprisingly, smoked beers pair well with smoked meats and cheeses (or a cigar, if that’s your preference!). This week we’re hitting a few of these unusual and tasty offerings, most of which are on offer at your local brew-shop.
Smoke and Dagger
by Jack’s Abby
Black Lager – 5.8% – Framingham, MA
Amy: This is a darn good beer! From the first sniff I was hooked. It smells of bittersweet chocolate with a touch of wood smoke. As I drink it I get hints of chocolate, toast, and smoky BBQ, all of them subtle and delicious. It’s rich, and almost creamy, but not at all heavy. The tangy, peppery carbonation keeps the flavor and richness from being too much. Just a solid, all around beer, from nose to finish.
Paul: Jack’s Abbey is one of my favorite breweries in Massachusetts, and this beer should give you a good indication why. The medium-bodied lager starts out with dark malts, baker’s chocolate, smoke, and a hoppy tang on the nose. These are followed by well-balanced flavors that include bitter chocolate, smokey-sweetness, and caramel, all ending with a crisp finish. As with most Jack’s Abbey beers, I was impressed by the subtle qualities of the beer’s profile. This may not be a full-on rauchbier, but it is very rewarding all the same.
Amy’s Score – 3.5 out of 5
Paul’s Score – 5 out of 5
Smoked Porter – 5.9% – San Diego, CA
Amy: This is one of those cases where I might have liked this beer if only it had been labeled differently. When I see the name “Smoked Porter” I think I’m going to be drinking something dark, creamy, and smoky. Instead this beer was BITTER. Not in a bad way – it reminded me of Italian roast coffee – but it wasn’t anything like I expected. It also had no smoke flavor whatsoever. I kept sipping it over and over again, expecting to find some hint of smokiness, but there really wasn’t any. There’s nothing wrong with this beer if you’re looking for something deep and dark, it’s a heavy, meal of a beer, but it’s totally not as advertised.
Paul: Stone’s Smoked Porter, as Amy says, is a bit of a misnomer. Sure, they use some peat-smoked malts in the brewing process, but this errs much more on the side of a good porter than a rauchbier. Creamy and chocolatey with just a touch of burnt sugar, this beer has the lightest touch of smoke possible. Not at all what I expected when I opened the bottle. Maybe it should be called a “Slightly Smoky Porter”? Don’t get me wrong though, I wasn’t mad about drinking this beer, I just wish it had picked up the smoke I was promised on the label!
Amy’s Score – 2.5 out of 5
Paul’s Score – 4 out of 5
Aecht Schlenkerla Urbock
Smokebeer – 6.5% – Bamberg, Germany
Amy: This beer, well, wow. It’s bacon. That’s really what it is. It’s delicious, liquid, alcoholic bacon. Does that sound gross? It shouldn’t. It’s smoky, savory, and almost sensual. The flavor is oh so intense, so smoky, but also tasty. The smell is the best part, it’s bright and rich with lots of hardwood smoke that reminds me of bacon. The flavor is deeper and darker than the smell, but still smoky and yummy.
Paul: This is the original, German, smoke-beer style. You can’t get much more smokey than this. I’m not gonna lie. I love this beer. I love everything about it. The dark body is rich and full, the smokiness is clearly apparent from the moment you pour it, and it is incredibly food friendly. Try it with some homemade macaroni and cheese, and prepare to be in bacony, beery, cheesy, heaven.
Amy’s Score – 4 out of 5
Paul’s Score – 5 out of 5
Ale made with smoked malts – 5.4% – Chelsea, MA
Amy: This has never happened before … I think this is a perfect beer. Let’s start with the name: I love Mystic for paying tribute to legendary Celtic’s coach Red Auerbach with this beer. My parents still have a crayon-scrawled note by my kindergarten fingers begging Red to let me sub for Larry Bird. The guy was my childhood hero and I’m thrilled that such a tasty brew is carrying his name. Next, the smell: Like the Urbock, there’s a little bacon-esque smokiness to the smell, but it’s more subtle and doesn’t overpower the rich malts. The same goes for the flavor. While other smoked beers either left me wondering where the smoke was or made me feel like I was curing bacon, this beer is more balanced. It’s creamy, rich, smoky, and even slightly sweet. It reminds me a little of slowly caramelized onions made for a French onion soup. Auerbach’s Rauchbier is a strong, stand-up ale, but one where the smoke takes the place of the typical ale bitterness. If you’re a fan of BBQ or beef jerky, this is a beer for you.
Paul: Unlike Amy, I couldn’t care less about whether or not my beer honors so-and-so sports guy from whatever-place. That’s not really my thing. What we both agreed on, though, was that this beer was worthy of some serious accolades. Creating a perfect combination of smoke and sweet, bitter and mild. Smoky malts on the nose are followed by coffee, chocolate, and molasses on the front end, with a smokey sweetness on the back. This beer is really, really good. Not the campfire-in-your-mouth of the Schlenkerla, but definitely a great American contender for the rauchbier title.