Some beer connoisseurs raise their glasses to smoked lager, but others don’t understand the hype, even if they are fortunate enough to frequent places that serve this unusual chestnut-colored beverage. What makes smoked beer such a hot commodity for some and a cold case for others?
While regular beer is made with malt that has been dried by steam, smoked beer contains malt that has been dried over a wood fire. Not all of this ingredient has to be processed this way for the beverage to classify as smoked. Variations in the smoked to dried-malt ratio and the kind of wood used in the smoking process denote the flavor of the finished product. These distinct notes include bacon, campfire, barbecue, peat, smoked meat sandwich and even ashtray.
The lovers seem to enjoy the fact that smoked beer has these nuances. Plus, it seems more exclusive because it’s not for everyone. However, the majority of craft breweries in the United States do make at least one version called Rogue Ales. Canadian microbreweries are picking up the trend with one-off or seasonal versions, depending on coastal region.
Smoked beer isn’t a new invention, however. Rauchbier, as it’s known in German, dates back to Bamberg where Schlenkerla has been brewed since 1405. Experts advise beginners to start with this Bavarian classic malt before trying more adventurous smoked brews.
For the haters, it all boils down to taste, regardless of the beer’s history and varieties. Not everyone wants their beverage to taste like a smoked meaty sandwich or an ashtray.
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