Aren’t spices, herbs & vegetables for cooking with? You’ve heard of smoked salmon, how about smoked beers? Are you a fan of the flavors oak imparts into beer such as vanilla? Read on to find out…
First we will cover the history of the category, then take a look at the specifications of each style highlighting the similarities and differences. We then sample commercial examples of each style.
Rauchbiers (‘rauch’ is German for smoke) originate from the German city of Bamberg which is in the Franconia (Franken) region of Bavaria (Bayern). A Classic Rauchbier is a Märzen-style amber lager which is brewed with beechwood-smoked malted barley (according to the BJCP guidelines)*.
Historically German brewers have used smoked malts in beers other than Märzens to impart a smoky flavor – these include Bocks, Doppelbocks, Weizens, Dunkels, Schwartzbiers, Helles, and Pilsners. This approach has now been adopted by modern brewers in other countries and extended to beer styles such as Porters and Scotch Ales. These beers are collectively grouped together under the ‘Other Smoked Beer’ style.
Wood-Aged Beers are usually made by brewing a particular base style then placing it in an oak cask or barrel which may, or may not, have previously been used for the production of a wine, port or spirits such as whisky, bourbon, and brandy. A similar effect can also be obtained by aging a beer in a stainless steel vessel with oak chips, cubes or spirals.
Woods other than oak are also used to wood-age beer and impart different flavors. Wood-Aging is more typically carried out by Craft Breweries than large-scale Macro Breweries though this line is blurring as the larger producers have seen the popularity of Craft Beer grow over recent years.
According to Jamil Zainasheff in his book, Brewing Classic Styles, these beers should be as follows:
- Classic Rauchbier – a malty-rich lager with lots of smooth, complex malt character and a sweet, smoky aroma and flavor.
- Other Smoked Beer – this is any beer exhibiting smoke as a principal flavor and aroma characteristic other than the Bamberg-style rauchbier. Better examples exhibit a balance in the use of smoke, hops, and malt character.
- Wood-Aged Beer – a harmonious blend of the base beer style with characteristics from aging in contact with wood. The best examples will be smooth, flavorful, well balanced, and well aged.
The following table* shows the characteristics of the three styles of Smoke-Flavored/Wood-Aged Beer:
|Characteristic||Classic Rauchbier||Other Smoked Beer||Wood-Aged Beer|
|Original Gravity:||1.050 – 1.057||Varies with base style||Varies with base style
Typically above average
|Final Gravity:||1.012 – 1.016||Varies with base style||Varies with base style|
|ABV (alcohol %):||4.8% – 6.0%||Varies with base style||Varies with base style
Typically above average
|IBU’s (bitterness):||20 – 30||Varies with base style||Varies with base style|
|SRM (color):||12 – 22||Varies with base style||Varies with base style|
The above table shows that only the Classic Rauchbier has specific starting & finishing gravities, alcohol content, bitterness, and color within the style guidelines. The other two styles depend on the base beer that is ‘smoked’ or ‘wood-aged’ and therefore the guidelines of the appropriate style apply.
For the Other Smoked Beer style an example that we cover in this article is Oskar Blues Old Chub Scotch Ale which has a base style of Strong Scotch Ale and for the Wood-Aged Beer style an example we cover is Horny Goat by Elevator Brewing which has a base style of Robust Porter.
Please note that the characteristics of the Wood-Aged Beer style is that the alcohol content tends to be above average and same goes for the starting gravity.
In the following sections we will look in more detail at each of the above Beer Styles.
Commercial examples of this style include Kaiserdom Rauchbier, Eisenbahn Rauchbier, Victory Scarlet Fire Rauchbier, Spezial Rauchbier Märzen, and Saranac Rauchbier. We decided to sample Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen.
Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen has the following characteristics which are within style for alcohol content and at the top of style for bitterness:
- ABV = 5.1%
- IBUs = 30
This beer is red in color with a white head that lasts a while. Subtle smoke in the aroma accompanied by some malt. Flavor is stronger smoke and slightly bitter. Moderate carbonation and a good mouth-feel with lasting smokiness.
Other Smoked Beer
Commercial examples of this style include Alaskan Smoked Porter, O’Fallons Smoked Porter, Spezial Lagerbier, Weissbier and Bockbier, Stone Smoked Porter, Schlenkerla Weizen Rauchbier, Rogue Smoke, Left Hand Smoke Jumper, Dark Horse Fore Smoked Stout, and Magic Hat Jinx. We decided to sample Oskar Blues Old Chub Scotch Ale, Boulevard Dark Truth Stout and Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock.
Oskar Blues Old Chub Scotch Ale is based on a Scotch Strong Ale and has the following characteristics which are within style for alcohol content and bitterness:
- ABV = 8.0%
- IBUs = 32
This beer is dark red in color with a thick light-tan head. Aroma and flavor are of caramel though the flavor is also malty and syrupy. Carbonation is low and the moth-feel is somewhat thick with a sweet after-taste.
Boulevard Dark Truth Stout is based on a Russian Imperial Stout and has the following characteristics which are within style for alcohol content and bitterness:
- ABV = 9.7%
- IBUs = 60
This beer is black in color with a thick dark-tan head. Poured thick and syrupy. A dark caramel aroma. Flavor is initially sweet then treacle, liquorice and bitter with a smoky after-taste. Low carbonation and a very thick mouth-feel.
Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock is based on a Traditional Bock and has the following characteristics which is within style for alcohol content but too bitter:
- ABV = 6.5%
- IBUs = 40 (max 27 for style)
This beer is red in color with a white head. Aroma has subtle smoke. Flavor is smokey with some sweetness from the Bock style. Moderate carbonation and a good mouth-feel with no smoke in the after-taste.
Commercial examples of this style include The Lost Abbey Angel’s Share Ale, J.W. Lees Harvest Ale in Port, Sherry, Lagavulin Whisky or Calvados Casks, Bush Prestige, Petrus Aged Pale, Firestone Walker Double Barrel Ale, Dominion Oak Barrel Stout, New Holland Dragons Milk, Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout, Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, Le Coq Imperial Extra Double Stout, and Harviestoun Old Engine Oil Special Reserve. We decided to sample Horny Goat by Elevator Brewing and John Henry Colonial Cream & Brown Ale by Cold Spring Brewing.
Horny Goat has a Robust Porter base style and the following characteristic which is above the maximum 6.5% for alcohol content but acceptable for the Wood-Aged Beer style:
- ABV = 7.5%
This beer is black in color with a tan head that goes quickly due to the alcohol content. A whisky aroma as is the flavor that is accompanied by whisky alcohol warmth. Low carbonation and a smooth mouth-feel.
John Henry Colonial Cream & Brown Ale has the following characteristics which are hard to compare to a given style due to them being a blend though the alcohol content is far higher than a Cream Ale (5.6% max) or an American Brown Ale (max 6.2%) but according to the style guidelines this is allowable:
- ABV = 9.3%
- IBUs = 34
This beer is brown in color with a slight head. A brandy and oak aroma. Flavor is creamy, bitter and of alcohol. Fine, below average carbonation with a medium mouth-feel.
Our next article will look at BJCP Category 23, ‘Specialty Beer‘, where we will examine the one style making up this category.
If you have any questions or comments about this article, please do not hesitate to contribute to the discussion below.
* Beer Styles’ data is courtesy of BJCP.org.