German Rauchbier is an old German beer style with origins in the 1500s from the district of Franconia and the town of Bamberg. 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. Of the three, coal was the least favorable due to it being expensive and dirty, no doubt imparting less than optimal flavors. The fuels used also depend on what area of Europe you were in. 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 was a new way to dry malt without ever exposing the malt directly to the fire. This not only increased the range of malt colors and flavors making a uniform roast, but also eliminated the smoked character.
Upon the discovery of this invention, maltsters of the 1800s began enthusiastically discrding the old roasting methods and excitedly explored pale malts with the drum kiln. Smoked beers became largely obsolete everywhere except in the Franconian city of Bamberg. Here people clung on to the old method and embraced the smoky character of the malt, specifically designing their beers around it. The people of this town became the keepers of the oldest continually made 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 stretches all the way back to 1387. They still process their own malt, kilning it over a fire of beach wood or for their Christmas Doppelbock, oak wood. 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 repitched onto the Helles, which imparts the light rauch note. 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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