Beyond the standard varieties of ale and lager, there is a world of other beer styles to please even the most exotic of palates. These special brews are different because of their unique ingredients, brewing processes and methods of ageing. They come from all over the world and are often deeply entrenched in the beer-brewing traditions of their countries of origin.
In this article, we look at one such unique beer, which (some say) traces its origins all the way back to the First Century BC. Ever heard of rauchbier?
What Is Rauchbier?
Rauchbier is a variety of German beer with a unique smoky flavour (rauch is German for smoke). Brewers obtain this smoky character by using smoked malted barley as the beer’s primary ingredient. Any type of beer can be brewed as smoked beer, but mid-strength lager is generally the preferred option.
How Do You Pronounce Rauchbier?
Rauchbier is one of the most commonly mispronounced beer names. The correct way to pronounce it is: “Raug Bee-Eh”. Remember to roll the first “R” as you would in Spanish or Russian (or, of course, German). Use a guttural “G” (phonetic symbol /x/), rather than the soft “G” of English.
How Is Rauchbier Made?
In order to obtain the desired smokiness for the brewing of rauchbier, malted barley is dried in a special kiln that allows the smoke of cured beech wood (or, sometimes, oak) to infuse the malt. This malt is then mashed (long boiled at a high temperature).
This precedes the standard beer brewing process: Hops are added to the mashed liquid (called wort), before it is boiled once more. Thereafter, yeast (possibly also smoked) is added and the beer is then conditioned (12° C for about seven days) and super cooled (at 0-2 C° for 3-4 days) before bottling and carbonation.
The percentage of smoked malt used to make rauchbier varies considerably from beer to beer and sometimes re-pitched yeast from a previously smoked wort is combined with standard malt to produce a milder smoky flavour. Further brewing variations allow smoked beers to vary extensively by style, flavour, colour and strength.
Is Rauchbier A Dark Beer?
Sometimes. Rauchbier can range in colour from light copper to dark brown. Either way, the foam head should be tan to cream in colour and creamy, thick and rich. Rauchbier is also notable for its brilliant clarity.
What Is The History Of Rauchbier?
You may be surprised to learn that all beer was once smoked beer. This was as a result of the kilns or wood-fired ovens used for drying malt before modern smokeless technologies were developed. (There is even one rather far-fetched tale told to tourists in Bamberg that rauchbier was accidentally invented when a medieval cloister in the region caught fire, with the smoke from the blaze engulfing the attached brewhouse and its malt store.)
In Bamberg, the unofficial home of rauchbier, malt has been smoked in this manner for over a hundred years. It is stored, together with the fermenting beer, in the catacombs beneath the city. In days gone by, to keep these underground caverns (called lagerkellers) nice and cool, ice was either harvested locally or imported from Finland or Sweden when the local supply was inadequate. These catacombs remain in use (with updated cooling methods) for beer brewing to this day.
With the industrial revolution in the early 18th Century, the residual heat from coal-fired kilns (with their smoke diverted to chimneys) was increasingly used to dry malt. This method ultimately all but replaced former drying methods and so smoked beer largely disappeared from bar shelves.
Certain breweries in Germany, however, continued to produce rauchbier and smoked beer, in general, has experienced a bit of a worldwide revival of late.
What Does Rauchbier Or Smoked Beer Taste Like?
As you’d imagine, rauchbier (and all smoked beer) has a distinctly smoky flavour. More nuanced taste notes you are likely to identify include toast, campfire, roasted nuts, bacon, grilled meat, and even coffee.
How Is Rauchbier Different To Grodziskie?
In addition to their different countries of origin (Germany and Poland respectively), rauchbier and grodziskie differ in terms of their flavours and ingredients. While both are smoked beers, grodziskie is made from wheat, as opposed to the barley of rauchbier. Grodziskie also differs from rauchbier in that it is highly carbonated and its smoky flavour tends to be quite mild.
What Is The Most Popular Rauchbier Brand In The World?
Schlenkerla (Heller-Bräu Trum) brewery, of Bamberg, Germany, is the indisputable world leader of rauchbier brewing. Like Spezial, another of the town’s breweries, Schlenkerla boasts over a century of rauchbier-brewing tradition. Its legendary Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier is still served on tap straight from the barrel.
What Are The 5 Best Smoked Beers To Try Right Now?
Although (some argue) the name rauchbier technically only applies to smoked beers brewed in Germany, the method is now used by numerous breweries worldwide. Here, in no particular order, are our picks of the five best smoked beers from around the world:
- Rauchdoppelbock (Trzech Kumpli Brewery, Poland)
- Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock (Heller-Bräu Trum, Germany)
- Fujizakura Heights Rauch Bock (Fujizakura Heights Beer, Japan)
- Gänstaller Bräu/ Sakiškių 06 Burned Malt (Gänstaller Bräu, Germany)
- Notch Lost In The Dream (Notch Brewing, United States)
How Do You Serve Rauchbier?
Although no specific type of glassware needs to be used to serve rauchbier, it is most often served in a willi becher. This is a traditional German beer glass with a modern twist. It is tall and has tapered sides to promote head retention. A dimpled or Stein mug will also do nicely.
What Foods Can You Pair With Rauchbier?
So, you’ve selected your preferred rauchbier from our list (or elsewhere) and are ready to sit back and enjoy. Why not make the most of the experience by pairing your beer with a perfectly matched culinary delight?
Owing to its smoky notes, rauchbier is best paired with similarly smoky foods – bacon, roast beef or lamb, smoked beef, pulled pork, and so forth. Because smoked beer tends to be mid-strength, it pairs well with richer, more filling dishes.
Ready to try a beer that will tantalise your tastebuds? Rauchbier is it!
Jake has been a craft beer and homebrew enthusiast since his college days. He loves scouring Europe for unique and unusual hops to add to his beers.
Founder of Jake’s Brew Haven – he currently hosts beer-tasting sessions at select local pubs in Baltimore.
Jump To a Section Below
- What Is Rauchbier?
- How Do You Pronounce Rauchbier?
- How Is Rauchbier Made?
- Is Rauchbier A Dark Beer?
- What Is The History Of Rauchbier?
- What Does Rauchbier Or Smoked Beer Taste Like?
- How Is Rauchbier Different To Grodziskie?
- What Is The Most Popular Rauchbier Brand In The World?
- What Are The 5 Best Smoked Beers To Try Right Now?
- How Do You Serve Rauchbier?
- What Foods Can You Pair With Rauchbier?