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Smoke Gets In Your IPA

The next Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, will take place April 3, and will be hosted by Lew Bryson, who’s just chosen his topic for next month. The April theme will be Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em, by which Lew means rauchbiers and other assorted smoked beers. Lew wants us to join him behind the barn for this tasting, but I confess I’m a little nervous about that prospect so I’ll hope you’ll join us for next month’s Session. In other words, please don’t leave me alone with Lew in the back of the barn. Who knows what might happen? All I know is that it somehow involves string .. and trying to push it somewhere. Strange. We’ll probably burn it down if we’re not careful.

But here’s how Lew describes it:

There may be more smoked beers than are dreamed of in your philosophy, Horatio; it’s not just rauchbier lagers from Franconia. Within the last year, I’ve had a strange smoked wheat beer, light and tart, that local brewers insisted was a re-creation of a Polish grodziski beer; a lichtenhainer, another light smoked wheat beer; several smoked porters; the odd Schlenkerla unsmoked helles that tastes pretty damned smokey; and, yeah, several types of smoked lagers. You’ve got three weeks, is what I’m saying: go find a smoked beer.

Because I’m not going to tell you that you have to like them, how you have to drink them, or whether you can have an expensive one or where it has to be from. But I do insist that if you blog on this Session, that you drink a smoked beer that day.

So even if you can’t make it to Bamberg, you should be able to find at least something smokey. Just to edumacate yourself on smoked beers, here’s an excerpt, some history and commercial examples from the BJCP style guidelines.

Classic Rauchbier:

Aroma: Blend of smoke and malt, with a varying balance and intensity. The beechwood smoke character can range from subtle to fairly strong, and can seem smoky, bacon-like, woody, or rarely almost greasy. The malt character can be low to moderate, and be somewhat sweet, toasty, or malty. The malt and smoke components are often inversely proportional (i.e., when smoke increases, malt decreases, and vice versa). Hop aroma may be very low to none. Clean, lager character with no fruity esters, diacetyl or DMS.

Flavor: Generally follows the aroma profile, with a blend of smoke and malt in varying balance and intensity, yet always complementary. Märzen-like qualities should be noticeable, particularly a malty, toasty richness, but the beechwood smoke flavor can be low to high. The palate can be somewhat malty and sweet, yet the finish can reflect both malt and smoke. Moderate, balanced, hop bitterness, with a medium-dry to dry finish (the smoke character enhances the dryness of the finish). Noble hop flavor moderate to none. Clean lager character with no fruity esters, diacetyl or DMS. Harsh, bitter, burnt, charred, rubbery, sulfury or phenolic smoky characteristics are inappropriate.

History: A historical specialty of the city of Bamberg, in the Franconian region of Bavaria in Germany. Beechwood-smoked malt is used to make a Märzen-style amber lager. The smoke character of the malt varies by maltster; some breweries produce their own smoked malt (rauchmalz).

Ingredients: German Rauchmalz (beechwood-smoked Vienna-type malt) typically makes up 20-100% of the grain bill, with the remainder being German malts typically used in a Märzen. Some breweries adjust the color slightly with a bit of roasted malt. German lager yeast. German or Czech hops.

Commercial Examples: Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen, Kaiserdom Rauchbier, Eisenbahn Rauchbier, Victory Scarlet Fire Rauchbier, Spezial Rauchbier Märzen, Saranac Rauchbier

Chec out the full guidelines for Classic Rauchbier.

Other Smoked Beer:

Aroma: The aroma should be a pleasant balance between the expected aroma of the base beer (e.g., robust porter) and the smokiness imparted by the use of smoked malts. The intensity and character of the smoke and base beer style can vary, with either being prominent in the balance. Smokiness may vary from low to assertive; however, balance in the overall presentation is the key to well-made examples. The quality and secondary characteristics of the smoke are reflective of the source of the smoke (e.g., peat, alder, oak, beechwood). Sharp, phenolic, harsh, rubbery, or burnt smoke-derived aromatics are inappropriate.

Flavor: As with aroma, there should be a balance between smokiness and the expected flavor characteristics of the base beer style. Smokiness may vary from low to assertive. Smoky flavors may range from woody to somewhat bacon-like depending on the type of malts used. Peat-smoked malt can add an earthiness. The balance of underlying beer characteristics and smoke can vary, although the resulting blend should be somewhat balanced and enjoyable. Smoke can add some dryness to the finish. Harsh, bitter, burnt, charred, rubbery, sulfury or phenolic smoky characteristics are generally inappropriate (although some of these characteristics may be present in some base styles; however, the smoked malt shouldn’t contribute these flavors).

History: The process of using smoked malts more recently has been adapted by craft brewers to other styles, notably porter and strong Scotch ales. German brewers have traditionally used smoked malts in bock, doppelbock, weizen, dunkel, schwarzbier, helles, Pilsner, and other specialty styles.

Ingredients: Different materials used to smoke malt result in unique flavor and aroma characteristics. Beechwood-, peat- or other hardwood (oak, maple, mesquite, alder, pecan, apple, cherry, other fruitwoods) smoked malts may be used. The various woods may remind one of certain smoked products due to their food association (e.g., hickory with ribs, maple with bacon or sausage, and alder with salmon). Evergreen wood should never be used since it adds a medicinal, piney flavor to the malt. Excessive peat-smoked malt is generally undesirable due to its sharp, piercing phenolics and dirt-like earthiness. The remaining ingredients vary with the base style. If smoked malts are combined with other unusual ingredients (fruits, vegetables, spices, honey, etc.) in noticeable quantities, the resulting beer should be entered in the specialty/experimental category.

Commercial Examples: Alaskan Smoked Porter, O’Fallons Smoked Porter, Spezial Lagerbier, Weissbier and Bockbier, Stone Smoked Porter, Schlenkerla Weizen Rauchbier and Ur-Bock Rauchbier, Rogue Smoke, Oskar Blues Old Chub, Left Hand Smoke Jumper, Dark Horse Fore Smoked Stout, Magic Hat Jinx

Check out the full guidelines for Other Smoked Beer.

So find yourself something smokey and join us April 3 for the next Session.

If you need to get annoyingly pumped up for a tasting of Smoked Beer, click here. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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