Where There is Smoke…

Beer Ireland

Guinness expands their repertoire with Black Lager, a distinctive dark beer. [Guinness]

Smoke beer or as they call it Germany, rauchbier, is one of the styles of beer that can be lumped into the overarching category of “acquired tastes.” Most people are put off by the aroma alone, while others enjoy that charcoal, liquid smoke taste that lingers on the palate.

According to Beer Advocate, “The Rauchbier style is an old German beer style, its origins go back to the 1500’s and to the district of Franconia and the town of Bamberg. It’s typically of dark colour and has similarities of the Oktoberfestbier. Green malts are literally dried over an open fire of beech wood, imparting a unique smokiness (“rauch” is German for smoke), the usage of which produces beers of an acquired taste. Imagine a smokiness so robust, so assertive, that it tastes of spiced, smoked meat.”

But why am I talking about smoke beers now? Well, because the style is headed in a whole new direction. For the longest time, smoke beer in United States usually meant either a bottle of Aecht Schlenkerla or a bottle of Alaskan Smoked Porter. There were a few seasonal beers with smoke notes but the market was small. Big boozy beers aged in whiskey, bourbon and rum barrels became the “it” beer. Followed by the sour beer craze.

Now with the increase in Cascadian Dark Ales or Black IPA’s (whichever terminology you wish to use), the roasted beers are primed for a comeback as people become accustomed to a higher level of roast in a beer which usually does not have it. And the style that might ride the coat tails of this upward beer trend and could intrigue the craft beer fans is an old Germanic beer called a Gratzer.

A Gratzer, in general, is a wheat beer that has been lightly smoked. I think there are loads of ways that the typical American (i.e. crazily innovative) craft brewer could re-interpret this style. From the length of roast, the type of wood used, addition of fruit or aging that could create a gateway beer to the land of even more intensely smoked offerings.

These rediscoveries of old styles and the subsequent re-imagining by later generations is yet another way that craft brewers can grab more drinkers from the clutches of the big beer barons. A great beer with a great story behind it trumps a bland overmarketed beer every time.

For the craft Beer of the Week, I recommend what the negative minded might call “brand extension” and what others might consider a welcome addition to a highly regarded family. It is the Black Lager from Guinness. It has the color and roast notes of regular Guinness but with a base that tastes of Harp. So it could also be categorized as a lazy man’s Black and Tan. But this brew lands more on the Harp side than the Guinness and to some beer geeks might just be too watery. But it pairs quite well with In N Out burgers and probably with stews and/or chili as well.

This week’s Homework is to delve into the beer history in your own family. What was the beer of choice for your parents and grandparents? Get on the phone, you probably need to call your mother anyway. Or check out old photographs, look for those summer photos and see if there is a can of beer in someone’s hand. Not only is this a cool way to find out more about your family back in the day. It might also explain why you have a predilection for one beer over another.

Find more of Sean Inman’s writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.


Sean Inman

Find more of Sean Inman’s writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.

Blog Comments

That is probably the best pairing except for ribs.

I’ve had a smoke beer with a burger and it was great.

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