Smoke and Mirrors
I try to be open minded. I try to find something good in every beer style. I try really hard, but I can’t really get behind Rauchbier. Yet, at the bottle shop last week I found a bottle of Schlenkerla Marzen in my basket. I didn’t put it there, but I brought it home anyway.
The smokey lager is native to Bamberg, Germany, but examples are brewed as near as Burnside Brewing and Heater Allen. The key ingredient is malt that’s been dried over a roaring fire. The smoke seeps into the malt and gives the beer it’s distinct scent. Schlenkerla malts their own grain and dries it over beechwood fires.
It smells like ham.
I haven’t eaten meat in a decade, but I still know what bacon smells like, and that’s what the beer smells like. It’s weird and slightly off putting. It’s weirdly savory, and the malty sweetness doesn’t make it any better. It’s really hard to get into the flavor at first. The first sip is weird and fun. The third one is just weird. And yet. I drank the whole thing. I didn’t dump it out. Schlenkerla has been making their smoked beer for six generations, so they must be doing something right. After half a pint the balance comes into focus. I got used to the smoke, even if I never really started to enjoy it.
I’ve enjoyed smoked malt before. In small doses, smoked can give a stout some added depth, but all smoke, all the time is just too much for me.