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What Is Rauchbier? A Guide to Smoked Beer

The first time I had a rauchbier, or smoked beer, I strolled into Angel City Brewery with the intention of going for something new. A quintessential Los Angeles bartender asked if I wanted to try it first, the only hint that it might be a niche experience, but I went all-in.

The first few sips of a rauchbier taste like a terrible mistake. Then, you experience the sensation of drinking sausage. Finally, you either fall in love or ask for your money back.

What Is Smoked Beer?

Smoked beers, traditionally made in Germany, are lagers brewed with malted barley that has been dried over an open flame, imparting varying levels of a rich, smoky flavor to the beer base (usually a Märzen). The origins go back to the 16th and 17th century when it was simply easier to dry and malt barley over a fire. The resulting heartiness plays well with flavorful meats, especially barbecue, and an underlying sweetness keeps the pairing balanced. By the 1700s, this powerful flavor profile met its match with newer brewing methods that moved away from overpowering smoky notes.

I talked to Dan Shapiro, Marketing Specialist for Angel City Brewery and Certified Cicerone®, about their limited edition Rauchbier and whether or not they have plans to bring it back. Angel City’s Head Brewer, Layton Cutler, studied brewing techniques in Germany, so rauchbier was a natural fit for their 2017 limited release lineup.

Shapiro admits it was a polarizing beer to have on tap, but they only make one batch for limited releases, so they haven’t stopped making rauchbier and may return to it in the future. In the meantime, an upcoming bacon avocado ale plays on rauchbier’s meaty, peaty profile for the millennial brunch crowd.

Liz LaBrocca spoke with Mike Schilling, beer buyer of Northampton, Massachusetts’ Provisions, a fine wine, craft beer, and specialty food store that’s known for stocking the unusual and the sought after. Schilling, a skilled home brewer, made sure to point out that smoked porters are often left out of the rauchbier conversation, but their dessert notes deserve as much acclaim for uniqueness.

Between Schilling and our growing knowledge of rauchbiers, here are a few to try out with your next meat-heavy meal.

Smoked Beers to Try

Aecht Schlenkerla Original Rauchbier Märzen

Aecht Schlenkerla Original Rauchbier Märzen
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If you just want to see what all the fuss about, this rauchbier is the best place to start. Brewed for nearly two centuries, Aecht Schlenkerla’s Original Rauchbier gives you authenticity, smokiness, but a little maltiness to take the edge off.

Brett Peat Daydream

Brett Peat Daydream
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A Schilling recommendation for the more adventurous, this rauchbier from Italy’s Birrificio de Ducato is a blend of three beers: a peated barley wine, a rauch märzen aged in Scotch barrels, and Brett ale aged for six months. The Brett Peat Daydream is pretty funky, so try it solo or with some mild goat cheese.

The Wild Beer Smoke N’ Barrel

The Wild Beer Smoke N’ Barrel
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This English rauchbier from The Wild Beer Co. uses sherry butts to impart cherry wood notes into this lager. Rosemary and sage also join the smoking party, adding an earthy, herbaceous flavor that works with the sweetness to temper the overall taste.

Ommegang Bourbon Barrel Vanilla Smoked Porter

Ommegang Bourbon Barrel Vanilla Smoked Porter
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Ommegang continues its run of limited release smoked porters for the third year in a row and they seem to be getting the hang of it. This smoked porter is aged in bourbon barrels for six months with Madagascar vanilla beans to produce a vanilla-forward dessert beer. For year-round smoked porter enjoyment, Stone Brewing still puts out the baseline for smoked porters everywhere.

J. Fergus
Former Digital Trends Contributor
J. loves writing about the vices of life — decadent food, strong drinks, potent cannabis, and increasingly invasive…
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