Rauchbier or “Smoke beer” is a beer style brewed with a hefty portion of malted barley that has been infused with smoke. The malt lends a distinct smoky flavor and aroma (duh) and I’ve never really considered using it in a beer before. I’ve had a Schlerkerla Smoked Marzen from a bottle, and the smoke flavor there is uber-intense — it’s almost like you’re drinking in an entire campfire that’s cooking a whole pack of bacon. Super smoky, but also super delicious. I’ve had some others that are a more tangy, “barbeque”-like smokiness, that haven’t really come close to the quality Schlenkerla in my opinion. For this recipe, I’d like to make something medium to mild in terms of smoke, based on a Bock-like recipe as the base beer.
All malts here are Weyermann, except for the pils, which is Dingemans (LHBS was sold out). After doing some reading on smoked malt, it seems that usually around 25% of the bill will yield a decent amount of smoked flavor without being overly assertive. I munched on some of it at the LHBS and it had fairly mild smoky taste, but much more intense, almost ham/bacon-like aroma. Chocolate Wheat malt is new to me too, but I think it should work well here – adding a little body, dark color, and some light chocolaty flavor by adding it late to the mash. Layering in some Munich and caramunich for body and balance. Slightly more hops (1.75 oz) to balance the higher alcohol and sweetness, and a clean neutral yeast strain to let the other ingredients shine. Anticipated 5 gallons 1.061 OG, 24 IBU, 22L color and around 6% ABV. Excited for this one!
- 6 lb Pilsner malt
- 3 lb Beech Smoked malt
- 2 lb Munich 10L
- 0.75 lb Caramunich III
- 0.5 lb Chocolate Wheat
- 1.75 oz Hallertauer hops (4.1% aa)
- WYeast 1056 American Ale
// Mash-in 2 qt/lb at 152F with everything except the choc wheat for 60 minutes. Add choc wheat 50 minutes into the mash, stir mash slightly trying to not disturb the bottom of the grain bed while recirculating. Raise to 168 for 10 minutes. Sparge to collect 7 gallons 1.043 wort. Boil hard 90 minutes, collect around 5 gallons of 1.063 wort. Chill to 75, pitch a 1qt starter. //
Tasting the mash runnings prior to chocolate wheat, there was really a nice presence of smoke flavor – not too much, but certainly noticeable. The mash smelled smoky, but in combination with the other malts, it had this awesome hay bale / horse barn smell. The rich sweetness of caramel flavors coming from the caramunich in combination with the smoked malt is a little confusing to me up front, but then again this is just the first runnings. Hopefully these will complement each other once fermented.
After adding the chocolate wheat malt to the mash it lent a nice dark brown color; I added it a little earlier that at mashout to ensure it converted and also make sure the mash had enough time to recirculate after disturbing it (it did kick up a good amount of husks in the runnings). The taste after adding it was unexpected – the smoky flavor is fairly hidden now, but the chocolate + smoke + caramel tastes really awesome. It really tastes like a good pretzel.
UPDATE (9/19/13): Fermentation was done after about 3 days (airlock bubbling once every 45 s or so, visibly the yeast was starting to settle), but I gave it an extra day just to be sure. This smells and tastes really, really good. The aroma up front are of chocolate, a lesser portion of smoke, and some deep breaded aromas that support nicely. The taste is bold, flavorful, with some chocolate up front, followed by smoke, and then some well rounded Munich-y flavors. Slightly acidic taste, probably from mashing the darker malts a little longer than needed, but it’s not off-putting. Slightly ester-y, but this should fade after a few days in the fridge. Left for 5 days at 32F, then racked to a keg. FG 1.016.
This came out to be a really nice beer; throughout its lifecycle I thought the smoke flavor was a little subdued, but it came through nicely in the end once it was conditioned properly. The amount of smoke flavor and aroma is really nice – not overbearing, and adds a great twist to a standard German recipe. Initially I thought there was a lingering bitterness from using almost double the hops than in a standard 60 min boil — most rauchbier recipes I looked up had hopping to this effect, and it made sense from a recipe/balance perspective, but I think it’s not really necessary (after a few weeks it faded out anyway). This beer had significant body, but was a little lacking in overall malt flavor – I wish it was just a little bit “bigger”. Two things that would probably help with this: 1) Step-mash to get a slightly maltier flavor without the a huge body, and 2) Increase the smoked malt by about 5% – it’s nice where it is, but I’m left wanting a little bit more. A success for my first smoked beer, and a delicious alternative beer to serve at Oktoberfest! Prost!
UPDATE 11/29/13: I entered this in a BJCP competition, so I wrote some of the “Overall Impression” notes below. Poor choice of category on my part, which seemed to hurt my scores a little, but over good feedback!
“This is an extremely well made beer that is unfortunately mistitled. The smoke is obscured by the malt roastiness. Overall a great, smooth, easy to drink beer. Fill me up!” 31/50
“Recategorized as a Roasted Schwartzbier. Good session beer.” 29/50
“Not enough smoke, too much roast. It’s very good and drinkable but misses the style. This is pretty close to a schwartzbier, but it should have more smoke in any event.” 26/50
“Very well crafted beer but too much roast for a smoked bock. Recategorization would have helped score. That said, I could drink a lot of this.” 31/50