What the hell is a Rauchbier?

If you’ve been following our new series so far, you’ve already studied up on “What the hell is a Kölsch” and you’re probably feeling pretty accomplished now that you’ve enhanced your craft beer IQ. Well, time to stop doing your victory dance, pull the needle off your Kool & The Gang ‘Celebrate Good Times’ record, and get ready for another healthy dose of beer knowledge.

Today, we bring you another German gem: The Rauchbier

Clipper City Heavy Seas Smoke on the WaterThe Basics:

Rauchbier is arguably as much of a description as it is a style. In German, it translates quite simply to ‘Smoke beer’. Although a smoke flavored beer might seem unique today, it was pretty much the norm until a few hundred years ago. Back then, the pervasive use of direct fire in the malting process imparted smoky flavors to malted grain, which carried over into the resulting beer. As malting processes evolved, the vast majority of brewers and maltsters moved away from direct fire to indirect heating methods – leaving only a handful of breweries in Bamberg, Germany to carry the Rauchbier torch. Today, they continue the tradition of making beers with malt smoked over beechwood, which imparts a smooth and pleasant smoky flavor, similar to that of hickory – so similar in fact that Rauchbiers are sometimes colloquially referred to as “Bacon Beers.”

Although a classic Rauchbier is a brewed as a lager of the malty German persuasion, smoke beers can take other forms. Most commonly in the US, we’ve seen smoked porters, where the smoke flavor is more of an accompaniment rather than the main event.  

Smoked Beers We Like and You Might Want to Try:

Alaskan Brewing Company Smoked Porter – Juneau, AK

Stone Brewing Co. Stone Smoked Porter – Escondido, CA

Heavy Seas Smoke on the Water – Baltimore, MD

Our Take:

Smoke flavored beer can be very polarizing. Some find the idea of a smoked beer completely unpalatable. Others find it to be one of the most intriguing, complex and delicious combinations of flavors out there. Either way, a couple thoughts from us here at ACB: First, although smoked porters are great, there’s no good reason not to try adding a little smoke to other beer styles. Amber lagers are another obvious choice, so we hope to see some American craft breweries trying out more new and creative smoked brews in the near future. Second, if you haven’t already, give a smoked beer a chance. If you hate it, just serve it at your next dinner party as a vegan alternative to that smoked pork you made.

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