As the weather cools and the scent of fireplaces fills the air, I start to get a hankering for one of my favorite ales: smoked beer.
There are two major kinds of smokey beers, not to be confused with each other. Rauchbier is a traditional German style, and features malts smoked over beech wood. Smoked beer, on the other hand, is usually stronger — think porters and stouts — and often features malts smoked over peat (though you’ll also find wood-smoked malts in these varieties).
Whichever version you have in your glass, the addition of smoked malts to a beer is delicious. You get a beer that tastes like a barbecue, or a campfire, or anything delightful that’s associated with smoke and flame. It’s a perfect accompaniment to cold Autumn nights, though lighter varieties are just as tasty in the summer, especially at a cookout.
Smoked beers and rachbiers are not uncommon, but I do wish these styles were a little more appreciated in the craft beer market at large. They’re not as easily found as an IPA or an imperial stout, and the varieties I do find tend to be draft-only. I know little to nothing about the cost involved, so maybe they’re just too expensive to produce in relation to demand. If that’s the case, then I am here to up the demand. I love my smoked beers, both dark and light. I love the cinder aftertaste in cold weather and warm. Bring me my beloved smokiness in bottles and bombers. I love you rauchbier. I will take you home.
Smoked beers may be a little elusive, but they are not impossible to find; and I have happily consumed some great ones over the years. A few of my favorites:
Lost Rhino Smokey and the Rhino: this is a mesquite-smoked lager and an excellent entry in the lighter smoked fare. Don’t be fooled by its pale golden color — it’s loaded with smoky flavor while also light enough that you don’t feel like you’re drinking a glass full of embers. It’s crisp and refreshing, equally great by the pool or under a blanket. I’ve only seen this on draft and I haven’t seen it since 2014; but I’d love to see it again. Plus, it references one of the greatest films of all time, so what’s not to love?
The Bruery Smoking Wood: dark, rich, barrel-aged, and smoked? Yes please. This beer is an excellent treat, with lots of smoky flavor combined with the richness of bourbon and the fruity, chocolaty notes of a good porter. This beer isn’t brewed very often and runs on the expensive side, but if you see a bottle, get it. It’s amazing and perfect to share (or keep all to yourself — I understand).
Devil’s Backbone Smokehaus Lager: another lighter entry, but just as smoky and delicious. Smokehaus Lager delivers the smoky goodness while also bringing toastiness and a little bit of hop to each sip. I chanced upon this beer at a local pizza place, and haven’t seen it since. I’m hoping that its various wins at the Virginia Craft Brewers Festival means we’ll see more of it.
What are some of your favorite smoked beers?