Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier - 5.1% ABV
We are often asked what are our favorite beers, which is an impossible question to answer. Our typical answer is 'the one that I am drinking now'. Yes, it's a bullshit answer, but that is only because it is a bullshit question. The real answer is that we have many different favorite beers, and the situation determines which beer we will be enjoying. So perhaps trying to pick a favorite winter beer is also a lesson in frustration .... or maybe not.
Winter warmer? Thick, rich, malty and usually very high alcohol content. Yes, very good choice, but after one beer it's bed time. Christmas beers? Spicy, rich, flavorful and again, one and done. Dopplebock? Winter whites? Porters? They seem to always follow along the same path of high alcohol and intense flavors which are just fine if you like sipping or staggering. But a great beer is one that you may enjoy again and again, and perhaps having more than one in an evening which is not possible for the great majority of winter beers, but there is one that is a bit different, and available year around.
Braurie Schlenkerla was first mentioned in 1405 and was said to have been around for many years before ... making it one of the oldest breweries in existence. Their flagship brews, Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier (rauchbier = smoked beer) are still produced using their traditional methods.
You remember the 4 ingredients that are used to create the vast majority of beers, don't you? Oh come on now, you remember ... water, yeast, hops and malts, the ingredients that are identified by the German beer purity law, aka Reinheitsgebot. Simple and elegant. Water, yeast and hops are easy to define, but do you really know where malts come from? Let me give you the short version. Barley grains are allowed to germinate where enzymes convert the starches contained in the grains into sugars. The germination process must be halted for the grain to be used in brewing by either air drying or kiln drying. The earliest methods used birch wood fired ovens (or oasting ovens) to halt the sprouting of the barley which crystallizes the sugars that were produced during germination. This crystallized sugar product is what we refer to as malts.
The birch wood fired ovens gave the beer a smoky flavor which the Germans call a Rauchbier. Later as brewing technology changed, brewers found a way to divert the smoke so that the beer flavor was not overpowered by the smoke flavor. The brewers at Braurie Schlenkerla chose to not use the new methods and have, for over 600 years, used the traditional methods to produce their smoked beer.
Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier are bottom fermented (ale) urbock/marzen or weizen beers. They pour a rich brown and creates a substantial creamy head (marzen) or relatively little head (weizen). You will smell the slight sweetness in the marzen but the over riding smell is that if smoke. Close you eyes and gently inhale, imagine yourself sitting next to a fireplace with Birch wood gently crackling away. Now taste. Rich, mildly sweet and malty and ... now what is that flavor again? Smoke. Oh yes, lots of smoke, which many find to be overpowering. Remember those chilly nights sitting next to a campfire? Then then when the breeze shifted and blew the smoke right at you, did it take anything away from the magic of the evening? Of course not. And neither will the smokiness take away from the magic of this beer. Enjoy it for what it is ... traditional, rich and oh-so-delicious.
96049 Bamberg, Germany