What is Smoked Beer?

Does anyone else get overwhelmed by how many kinds of beer there are? There are so many styles and so many brewers that it’s truly impossible to try everything. My-go to-drink list just got longer thanks to the recent discovery of smoked beer, or Rauchbier in German (or “Bacon Beer” in America).

This beer is imparted with a distinctive smoke flavor by drying malted barley over a flame. Drying out this malt over a flame was pretty rudimentary, and the method was eventually replaced in the 19th century by kiln drying. The kiln doesn’t leave the same smoky flavor as an open flame, so smoked beer became almost nonexistent.

Thankfully, a few breweries stuck with tradition — namely, two German brewpubs in Bamberg called Schlenkerla and Spezial. These breweries are still operating today and have been producing smoked beer for almost two centuries. They both dry their malt, made from beechwood logs, over fires and offer a few varieties of Rauchbier.

Just like with barbecue, smoke adds flavor. And when it comes to food and drink, I think we can all agree that flavor is key. Today, brewers have become skilled at using different types of wood to add specific flavors. Though Rauchbier in Germany is brewed more like a lager, the US has been really into smoked porters. Here are some American varieties to try:

Alaskan Brewing makes a smoked porter with Alaskan alder wood, which has a sweet and herbaceous aroma that blends perfectly with the chocolaty porter flavor.

Stone Brewing in California makes Stone Smoked Porter, described on their website as “a porter with hints of chocolate and coffee balanced by subtle smokiness.” This beer gets its smoky flavor from peat-smoked malt.

Victory Brewing Company makes a Rauchbier dubbed Scarlet Fire that has a hint of caramel, a deep malt base and uses the traditional beechwood to smoke the malt.

Jack’s Abby makes a Rauchbier inspired by the original Bamberg versions, and this one reportedly tastes like “you’re having a side of bacon with a stein of Oktoberfest.”

Sweetwater Brewing has a “Dank Tank Pulled Porter” that was made in collaboration with Fox Bros. BBQ in Atlanta. The brewing company used the restaurant’s smoker to toast barley and bacon over hickory to create, according to Men’s Journal, “a liquid ode to pulled pork.”

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