Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Taste-Off: Smoked Beers

A few weeks ago some friends and I got together for a sausage tasting. The only thing I could think of that was appropriate to wash down two dozen sausages was a large amount of smoked beer. Smoked beer comes in many flavors from the traditional German rauchbier to smoked porters from the States. In order to widen the sampling, I also included a few that gained their smokiness from aging in bourbon or scotch barrels. I'm no beer expert, but what makes a smoked beer is how the malt is dried. The malt must be dried, and that can be done by direct sunlight or more commonly in a kiln, but one way not used very often is to dry it over an open flame. This imparts a smoky flavor and creates a rauchbier, or smoked beer.

A Sampling of the Sampling

I could only get my hands on two traditional rauchbiers. One was a new limited release brew from Samuel Adams called Bonfire, and the other was Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier made in Bamberg Germany. The Schlenkerla had a more pronounced smokiness, and was one of the most enjoyable of the tasting. Bonfire was similar, but was missing the smoky punch.

The smoked porters came from San Antonio's Ranger Creek Brewery, San Diego's Stone Brewing Company, and O'Fallon Brewery in Missouri. The Stone is a popular one that easy to find, and it was very enjoyable. Ranger Creek's was also quite good with smokier notes and a deeper flavor. The O'Fallon was just not good in comparison.

Other wild card brews were a smoked and oaked Belgian Ale from Salt Lake's Epic Brewing Company and a smoked wheat beer called Boucanee from Bayou Teche Brewery in Louisiana. If you like your beer to taste like toffee, then the Epic brew is for you. The Boucanee was pretty weak, and the smoke was hardly discernible.

The 'alternative' smoked beers were those aged in bourbon or scotch barrels. Brew Dog has collaborated with a few scotch distillers to create Bitch Please (barley wine), Devine Rebel (a barley wine collaboration with Mikkeller), Paradox Smokehead and Paradox Isle of Arran which are all aged in scotch barrels. Brooklyn Black Ops is aged in bourbon barrels. The Black Ops was the best of this group. None of the bottles in this group were cheap. A bomber of Black Ops was $20 while the Brew Dog beers were all about $12 for a 12 ounce bottle.

There was just one beer that all tasters agreed was horrific. The Brew Dog Paradox Smokehead tasted as if ash was simply mixed into a strong stout. There was nothing pleasing about the flavor, and the group couldn't even finish one bottle. Stay away from this one if you want to enjoy your beer. On the brighter side, it did lead me to find the scotch is was named after. The Ian MacLeod produced Smokehead is an intensely peaty single malt scotch that smoke fanatics like myself will probably enjoy.

While the tasting made for some interesting comparisons, I didn't feel compelled to drink any of these brews over any of my usual favorites. The Schlenkerla was the hardest to find, but was also the one I'd like to try again most. I also wouldn't turn down a Stone Smoked Porter, Brooklyn Black Ops or the Ranger Creek Smoke Porter if it was put in front of me, but paying $12 for a small bottle of ashy flavored swill probably won't be in my future.

- BBQ Snob


PM Summer said...

Where did you find the Schlenkerla? I've looked all over Texas, (Dallas, Houston, Austin) and have been told no one distributes it here.

As I recall, you didn't like Shiner's Smokehaus when it was available. I wonder how you'd feel about it now. But then, I love Paradox Smokehead.

Griffin's Grub said...

I was kind of surprised you didbn't include the Shiner Smokehaus.

PM Summer said...

@Griffin's Grub

Shiner Smokehaus is off the market right now. They replaced it with that nasty Ruby Redbird ginger/grapefruit beer last year. Maybe Smokehaus will be back this year.

BBQ Snob said...

PM - Thanks for adding the Shiner Smokehaus clarification. It would have been great to add to the list for comparison.

For the Schlenkerla I had to buy it online and ship it to my Oklahome in-laws who were travelling down for the weekend.

Also, it's good to see you back commenting on the site.

PM Summer said...

Another "smoked" beer you might try is "Rouge Chipotle Ale", which isn't a Rauschbier, as all they do is add smoked jalapenos to an ale... but the smoke flavor comes through!

Jake said...

As someone who loves both wood smoke and beer, I think you're right in feeling that so many of them are just sort of "off." Victory Brewing recently had a rauschbier as a limited release that was well crafted but slightly too odd to be satisfying. I'll take my smoke in brisket and Lagavulin.


Each joint is judged on the essence of Texas 'cue...sliced brisket and pork ribs. Sausage is only considered if house made. Sauce is good, but good meat needs no adornment to satisfy. Each review can only be based on specific cuts of meat on that particular day. Finally, if the place fries up catfish or serves a caesar salad, then chances are they aren't paying enough attention to the pits, so we mostly steered clear.