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Succumb to Smoke: The Art of Brewing a Balanced Rauchbier

Jester Goldman’s first sip of a Rauchbier nearly discouraged him from ever trying the style again, but now it’s become a favorite style for him. Try it for yourself with Jester’s tips.

Jester Goldman Feb 5, 2016 - 6 min read

Succumb to Smoke: The Art of Brewing a Balanced Rauchbier Primary Image

My first sip of Kaiserdom Rauchbier nearly discouraged me from ever trying the style again. The burnt, ashy flavor lingered like a punishment. Why would anyone ever choose to mix smoke with malt?

A few years later, though, I toured Bavaria, and a friend insisted I make a side trip to Bamberg, the home of Rauchbier, to visit Brauerei Spezial and drink their smoked Märzen. Despite my misgivings, the first aromatic whiff made it clear that Spezial was the perfect name for that brewery. Their beers, and the offerings from Bamberg’s more well-known Schlenkerla brewery, taught me how sweet and savory could support one another and I fell in love with the delicious complexity. Where Kaiserdom was harsh and unpleasant, these beers were assertive but smooth. The rich sweetness softened the phenol away from associations such as cigars and house fires, instead suggesting perfectly browned bacon or a lightly aromatic campfire. It was like taking a bite of smoky Southern barbecue and rinsing it down with a fine malty Oktoberfest beer.

On the surface, brewing your own Rauchbier seems fairly straightforward: start with a Märzen or Oktoberfest base beer recipe and substitute a healthy percentage of German smoked malt. But there are complications. The first question is how big do you want to go: do you want a touch of smoke or do you want the full Bamberg experience? Then you need to choose your smoked malt, recognizing that they vary in intensity and flavor. Your homebrew supplier may have a number of choices—ignore the peat-smoked malt—but there are three widely available malts that work well.

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