Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Tuesday Tasting: Two Great Smoked Beers
Smoked beers are fairly rare finds. You know you have found a great beer bar or retailer that stocks smoked beer. A recent trip to Bamberg, Germany, reminded me of just how much I enjoy these beers. Rauchbier is not for every day or for every one. But when the time is right, these are flavorful beers that satisfy a unique taste spectrum.
The myth about smoked beers is that they are heavy. The reality is that these beers can be delicate. While they are full of flavor, smoked beers don't need to be overwhelming. If you have not tried rauchbier, my suggestion is to ease into it and not make a smoked beer your first beer of the day. There is nothing to be afraid of with these beers, but they do tend to challenge your concept of what a beer should taste like. You don't want to follow up a Miller Lite with a Schlenkerla Urbock. You may want to have a roasty stout or porter before you crack open your first smoked beer. Others beers that present solid flavor profiles, such as a hoppy IPA or malty bock, can also serve to get you in the right mindset for your first-ever smoked beer. The flavors in these beers are no more intense, just different.
Smoked beer is a taste of history, taking you back in time to when malt was dried with the help of open fires. If you like peaty Scotch or enjoy smoked meats, rauchbier will be at once familiar and also different. Trying new drinks is all about the adventure and having a willingness to maintain an open mind. Remember as you try these beers that in many parts of the world prior to the industrial revolution almost all beer was smoked beer.
Heading into the Christmas season I visited several of my favorite retailers looking for holiday beers and specialties to share with family and friends. At the grapevine Wine Shop and Wine Bar in Fort Mill, S.C., I discovered Victory Otto Ale. At Total Wine & More, Aecht Schlenkerla Eiche, a doppelbock brewed for the holidays, was on the shelf. Even though I have enjoyed many beers from Victory and Schlenkerla over the years, this is my first encounter with either of these beers.
Aecht Schlenkerla Eiche: Schenkerla typically uses beech wood from Franconian forests to smoke its beers, but in this case they use oak for a holiday doppelbock. Traditionally, oak trees were harvested for home and ship building. The brewery says the malt smoked with oak produces a smoother and more multi-layered smoky note than the intensely aromatic beech smoked malt. This doppelbock is a bright copper colors and is 8 percent alcohol by volume. The brewery adds a nice amount of Hallertau aroma hops to this beer. The smoke is round and pleasant in this beer with a good amount of sweet malt for balance.
Victory Otto Ale: The back label on this beer explains it was inspired by a 1987 visit to Bamberg by travelers that recently had also visited the Orval monastery brewery in Belgium. Decades later they wondered what impact smoked malt might have on a Belgian dubbel. This 8.1 percent alcohol by volume ale is the result of the pairing of two classic European beer styles. The beer pours a light brown color with a decent tan head. The Trappist yeast strain comes through with some fruit notes and the smoke is mellow and long lasting. The beer is unique and flavorful.