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Rauchbier and Tropical Stout

Style Studies (Issue 21)
Rauchbier and Tropical Stout
Rauchbier and Tropical Stout

Rauchbier


With colder weather finally upon us, many craft beer drinkers will be reaching for something “bigger” from their cellar this autumn and winter. Barleywines, Quadrupels and Imperial Stouts all make for great cold-weather beers, but there’s one style that makes for a perfect pint beside bonfires and fireplaces all over the world: Rauchbier.

When you think of German beers, your mind probably springs to the obvious examples. Pilsners, Bocks, and other light, easily quaffable beverages are indeed some of the hallmarks of the German beer scene and German brewing history.

Much of this impression stems from the country’s ancient beer purity law, the Reinheitsgebot, which decrees that beer only contain four ingredients: hops, yeast, water and barley or wheat. Rauchbiers indeed follow this law, but with some notable differences in the brewing process.

Rauchbiers, literally Smoked Beers in German, originated in Bamberg, Germany in ancient times. Originally, before modern brewing techniques came along, malt had to be dried with direct sunlight, wind or above an open flame. The purpose of this was to get the perfect balance of smokiness and malt roundness, which could only be done through drying the malt to precise temperatures.

When kiln-drying became the most popular and widely used way to dry malt, Rauchbiers lost much of their delicate smokiness, as kilns shunt the smoke away from the malt in order to keep the malt flavor more or less intact. Modern Rauchbiers are smoked versions of Märzens, the malty German style, which was the trademark style of Munich’s Oktoberfest celebration for many years, but which has been replaced by the lighter Festbier in recent times.

Two major breweries (Schlenkerla and Spezial) in Bamberg still dry their malt over open flames, though, therefore continuing the rich history of Rauchbiers. But the history isn’t the only thing that’s rich about Rauchbiers.

Beers that taste like smoke might not immediately sound very appetizing, especially to someone who owns an asthma inhaler, but the smoke flavor, while initially a little jarring, is perfectly integrated into the beer’s flavor. Bacon or ham-like smokiness is the style’s flavor hallmark, with fired beechwood a secondary element, but the smoke should never be overpowering. The round and creamy mouthfeel creates a smooth drinkability that is another exemplar of the style.

Balance is the name of the game for Rauchbiers. While smokiness is its calling card, a well-made Rauchbier almost always strikes a balance between its smoky qualities and typical beery elements. 

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