Rauchbier is a long-standing German style that comes from the district of Franconia and the town of Bamberg that originated in the 16th century. With Rauch being the German word for smoke, you know what flavor to expect.
For this beer style, green malts are dried over an open fire imparting a unique smokiness to the final product. The final malt flavor in influenced by the type of fuel used, how long it was used for, what temperature it is heated at, and what malt was kilned. The three main fuels used to dry the malts were wood, straw, and coal. Coal was the most costly, filthy, and taste effecting fuel, making it the least favorite of all the possible fuels. The fuels chosen by the different beer maltsters was often dependent on the part of Europe they were from. English maltsters typically made use of coal or wood, whereas German brewers didn't use much coal, and instead depended on wood alone.
The course of brewing history was changed forever when Daniel Wheeler invented the drum kiln. The drum kiln invention was a new way to dry malt without ever requiring direct exposure to the flame. This helped to increase the array of colors malt could be, enhance the flavors it could have, and create an overall uniform roast, as well as eradicated the smoky character.
Upon the discovery of this invention, 1800s maltsters began actively abandoning the previous roasting techniques to explore what could be done with pale malts in the drum kiln. Smoked beers became largely obsolete everywhere except in the Franconian city of Bamberg. Here people hung on to the traditional methods and cherished the smoky malt character. The people of this town were designated as the oldest to continually make smoked beers.
Two breweries today have become synonymous with traditional Rauchbier,and they are Bauerei Schlenkerla and Christian Merz Brauerei Spezial. Bauerei Schlenkerla’s history dates back to 1387. They continue to make their own malt, kilning it over a beach wood or oak wood flame. They are most known for their Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, a Märzen Rauchbier. Rauchbier comes in many forms: a Urbock Rauchbier, a Helles Rauchbier, a Märzen Rauchbier and so on.
A Helles Rauchbier is subtly smoky, however this is not due to smoked malt. Instead, Aecht Rauchbier yeast is re-used and pitched into the Helles, giving it elegant rauch accents. Smoke profiles in different smoked Rauchbiers can range from the slightest hint to a strong bacon like smoky, woody character.
As far as other Rauchbier recipe ingredients are concerned, the rauch malt is used and the overall presence is low to medium with a rich toasty malty sweet profile, and the hop presence is low to nonexistent. The color is typically dark brown to amber in color, the beer is medium-bodied and smooth, and the carbonation is somewhat high. The ABV is usually between 4.8-6% and the best Rauchbier glass is a dimpled mug, a Willi Becher, or a vase.
For food pairing one might think to pair smoked Rauchbier with smoked meats, however this might be too overwhelming without really adding anything to the experience. Grilled meats is a much better choice since they contain some smoky elements, but that's not the only thing they have to offer. Bratwursts, steak, chicken, and pork ribs are all worthy partners as well with a Rauchbier German craft beer. Roasts, stews, jambalaya, and oysters, as well as mushrooms, tomatoes, anchovies, olives, soy sauce, and potatoes all bring out great parts of a Rauchbier beer as well.
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