As the crazy craft beer steamroller pounds ever forward, some of us are hanging off the top, trying to steer it away from flower beds and uprighting cultural treasures it may have thrown into the verge. Our new “Steel Forest” Bock is that sort of beer – like putting the vases back up on the shelf after an earthquake. It would be too easy for some of these less popular traditions to go away for good. The brilliant Bamberger “rauchbiers” of Franconia, Germany, have much more to fear than overzealous craft brewers and the general march of time.
Smoked beer is not for everyone, in fact it’s almost not for anyone. Even beer drinkers in Bamberg itself, even ones that still treasure their small traditional breweries, even ones that celebrate the history and tradition of rauchbier… don’t like rauchbier.
Rauchbier drinkers get that. “It tastes like bacon” is the most common slur. And yes, it obviously does have a savoury aspect. Like bacon, Bamberg maltsters use wood fire and smoke to help remove moisture in addition to lightly toasting their malted barley grains. This sort of wood kilning would have been all over the map at one point, as would these slightly smokey beers – before the modernisation of the technology. But of course thank goodness we modernised! I almost never say that but imagine the great beers we would have missed out on if all beer was still smokey.
Anyway, in humble celebration of the Bamberg tradition we have brewed Stahlwald Rauchybock. It’s a big malty beer at 6.6% a.b.v., with a deep reddish hue that repels nearly all light. Of course it has our house character of a refreshing juicy tartness in the malt and a bit of iron. Finally the smokiness envelopes the palate like the fireplace near a snug in the braustube, having infused every barleycorn it encountered many months ago in the malzerei. This is beer for dreaming of the art of malting and the wonder of barley, and for traditions that we’ve just managed to be on earth to experience rather than read about.
One of the ways to make up for the fact that Craft Brewers take so much from traditional brewing cultures that aren’t our own is to try to give back to that culture; to raise awareness, to encourage people to purchase traditional beers and to travel to experience them in context as well. If you discover that you’re one of the few who like smoke beer, please look further in to the great tradition of Bamberger Rauchbier and enjoy exploring.
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