While sitting with my buddy on a normal review of beers, he snuck in an unusual brand. Hidden amongst the amber pillars of brew, there was a brand completely unheard of by me. After asking him about it he informed me of this brew, the pride of Bamberg. This beer, Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier which loosely translates to “original Schlenkerla smoke beer” was introduced to me that day.
Upon opening this beer then pouring it, one can immediately smell the aromatic smoke that lay dormant until the opening of the bottle to release it, like some genie that lay asleep awaiting their master’s bidding. Dark in color, the beer pours into the bottle like a porter and seems like a hefty beer to drink. But we didn’t drink it right away. The unmistakable aromas of wood smoke which reminds a person of a smokehouse, where hams and bacons are cured marry with the hops and subtle malt profiles.
If one is not truly convinced of the interconnection between their senses of smell and taste, then this beer will further educate you on this. On the first sip of this beer, I was tasting the profiles of herby bacon married to light toasted bread! It was truly amazing how the flavors wash over the tongue, with some of the flavors being sweet, then bitter and lightly tart. The assumed heaviness from the color was indeed not present as the beer went down lighter than expected, almost as if it were an ale or even a lager. From that moment, I was transfixed and wanted to learn more.
Upon researching this style, I discovered from their home site at http://www.schlenkerla.de/ what the name Schlenkerla came to mean. Coming from the Frankish word “schlenkern”, it was a humorous description of the way a person walks, which was more like a stumble than a straight walk! Perhaps a description of how a person would get from drinking too many, which would be easy to do. But the question still remained as to why the beer was smoked in the first place.
The smoke was a result of the kilning process to the malt. When malting is done to beer, one takes the wheat which is loaded with natural starches and attempts to convert them into sugars by sprouting them a little. Once that sprouting action has been completed, then the malter needs to dry them out so that they can stop the process and in essence keep the sugars as they are. The best method is to dry the wheat in a kiln, and at the time of the 15th century heat power came from wood. So this process of kilning the malt in this way gives the malt a characteristic that was very unusual. Using beechwood as fuel, the smell of the smoke then infused into the sugars of the wheat and thus created the unique profile of the rauchbier.
The historical tavern in the old part of the town of Bamberg has been in production from the time of 1405 and has been in steady production ever since. On the walls of the tavern, one can see artifacts from that time and you feel transported backwards with the hospitable nature and philosophy of the rauchbier and those who adore it. In fact, on the coasters at the tavern is written the following paragraph: “Even if the brew tastes somewhat strange at the first swallow, do not stop, because soon you will realize that your thirst will not decrease and your pleasure will visibly increase.” As strange as that might seem, it is quite true!
They also offer qualities of beer in several varieties. The original style is properly called a Märzen, which are traditionally brewed between September 29th through April 23rd. Other styles include urbock, wheat, lager, a style called Lentbeer which from it’s namesake is only served during Lent, and the newest for this year, the strong Oak Smoke which tops out at a whopping 8 percent in alcohol! This is a double bock brewed for the Christmas season and kilned in oak wood fires instead of the beech wood.
If your budget doesn’t allow for a visit to the old town of Bamberg, don’t fret. One can get the beer at a specialty beverage supply house such as BevMo and others where I will supply a link following this, or you can even order direct from the brewery for a smoky Octoberfest party for next year! In either case, the smoky flavor will unseat you due to it’s unusual nature; however you’ll find yourself reaching for another, just like another slice of smoky bacon on a Saturday morning.
Complementary links and source material:
Ordering and locations in the USA
Ordering and locations in other countries