Brewing SolutionsBeer Guide: What is Smoked Beer and How to brew one?

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Have you ever heard of smoked beer? A unique style of beer that feels like you’re drinking a smoked sausage? If no, get ready to be blown away by one of the most distinct types of beers. If yes, continue reading. We’ve got some excellent tips on how to brew smoked beers.

What is Smoked Beer? A Quick Historical Detour

Smoked beer or Rauchbier (its official name) is a German-style lager made with smoked malt (traditionally known as Rauch in German). In recent years, craft beer manufacturing companies are experimenting with this beer style.

Centuries ago, smoked beer was commonplace in Germany. Back in those days, the only way to dry malt was by roasting in over an open fire. This process ensured that the beer had a smoky under taste in every sip. The brew’s final flavour depended on several factors like – how long the malt was roasted, the type of fuel used, and the kilns.

The three standard fuels used for roasting malts in those days were: wood, coal, and straw. Coal was considered the least favourable fuel since it was dirty, expensive, and imparted less-than-optimal flavours. German brewers used wood for roasting malts. Hence the beer had a woody-smoked taste.

In 1818, Daniel Wheeler invented a new method for roasting malts – and that changed the history of beers forever. He designed the drum kiln, which ensured that the malts were not exposed to the fire directly. As a result, malts were roasted uniformly, without the smoky flavours. So, smoked beers became a thing of the past.

Yet, in one place, brewers still continued to roast their malts directly over open fires, thereby embracing the smoky beers. Beer manufacturers in the city of Bamberg in Germany have been brewing smoked beer for centuries. Today, it stands as the hometown for smoked beers with nine breweries, including two world-famous breweries for rauchbier – Christian Merz Brauerei Spezial and Brauerei Schlenkerla.

Characteristics and Style Profile of Smoked Beers

Here’s a quick style guide of a traditional Rauchbier.

Appearance:

The colour of a smoked beer ranges from a dark brown to light copper. The head should be cream or tan, rich, creamy, and thick. The brew has high clarity.

Aroma:

The smoky tones can either be subtle or strong. Generally, it has a woody and bacon-like flavour. The malt has a sweet, toasty, and creamy profile. Hop aroma is typically low or non-existent.

Mouthfeel:

It has the typical smoothness of a good lager with a medium body and moderate to high carbonation. Harshness and high astringency do not work for this style of beers.

Taste:

Just like the aroma, the taste is a balance between the malt and smokiness. Both these profiles complement each other. It has the toasted malty richness of a Marzen. Smoky flavours can either be subtle or overpowering. However, the smoky flavour isn’t greasy. Burnt, charred, harsh, sulphury, bitter notes are a No.

Food Pairing:

The obvious choice is to go with smoked meats. However, this becomes too overpowering. Smoke on smoke is not a good choice. The better option is grilled meats. Steaks, pork ribs, chicken, fish, and bratwursts are all excellent choices. Desserts like gingerbread cookies, smores, flan, upside-down pineapple cake, bread pudding pair well with smoked beers.

Serving & Storage:

Best served at 50-55◦F in a dimpled mug or vase. Store away from sunlight.

Characteristics of Smoked Beer
Colour Range12 – 22 SRM
IBU20 – 30
Original Gravity1.050 – 1.057 OG
Final Gravity1.012 – 1.016 FG
ABV4.8 – 6.0%
Shelf LifeA few years (away from sunlight and at the right temperatures)
Temperature50-55◦F

 

How to brew smoked beers?

Here are a few points to keep in mind:

  • While adding the smoky flavour to beer, we highly recommend that you don’t use liquid smoke. Liquid smoke adds acrid bitterness that leaves a bitter taste in the final brew.
  • Smoke your own malt as it gives you better control over the flavours. You can use applewood, cherry, or any other hardwood for smoking the malt.
  • Here’s how to smoke your malts:
    • Moisten the malt with chlorine-free water. Use lighter malts. The lighter the malt, the smokier is the flavour.
    • Then, smoke it over a cool fire. Aim to keep the temperature as cool as possible (around 120◦F) while generating smoke.
    • Make sure that there are no flames as flames burn the grains, instead of smoking it.
    • Place your grains in a mesh bag that prevents ashes from getting into the grain.
    • Moisten the grains during the smoking process, but don’t make it soaking wet. You can use a spray bottle to moisten the malts, periodically. This helps the smoke to stick to the grains.
    • We recommend smoking at 120◦F for around four hours.
    • Once you have smoked the malt, make sure to completely dry the grains if you don’t plan to use it immediately.

Do a Taste Test before using it in your Lager Recipe.

Make a grain tea from the smoked malts. Boil a cup of water and add half a cup of grains in it. Let it steep for a few minutes. Then, drink the tea to get an idea of the flavour profile. However, remember that the smoky flavour in the tea will be subtler than in your finished beer. So adjust accordingly.

Replace the smoked malts in your regular lager recipe to get a fantastic smoked beer.