My interest in smoke beers came from my interest in Scotch. I’ve become quite fond of the smoky peaty whiskies of Isla, and I thought why don’t they make beer the same way? Both start with malted barley, but in whisky they stop the malting process by burning peat. It is the peat that imparts a lot of the flavor and character found in the finished whiskies. Peats from different parts of Scotland impart different flavors and characters. Of course there are different ways of imparting a smoky flavor to beer. We have smoked meats, smoked cheeses, so why not smoked beers? A word of warning. Smoked beers are an acquired taste, just as very hoppy beers are too.

On our recent trip to Geneva, I wanted to try some of the Swiss beers. I did but I also discovered Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, a German beer. I didn’t know what it was. I bought the bottle on a lark. I took it back to our room, chilled it, opened it, poured a glass. And was surprised by the flavor. I didn’t know it was a smoke beer and was pleasantly surprised. When I got back I decided I wanted to see if I could find it here and do a taste test comparing it with other smoke beers. I tried 4 different smoke beers and here is what I think of them. This won’t be a comprehensive review of each. More of a quick recommendation.

The beers: Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen, Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock, Alaskan Smoked Porter, and Stone Smoked Porter

I started with the Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock. It was nice but not as nice as the Märzen. Then I went on the Alaskan Smoked Porter. It would have been a good porter without the smoke but the smoke added that extra oomph. Nice and smokey. The Stone Smoked Porter was the least smokey of the bunch. It too was a nice porter with a hint of smoke. Finally I tried the Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen again. It wasn’t quite as nice as I remembered. It didn’t quite have the mouth feel I remember. It seemed a bit more watery. It may have sat on the shelf too long or it may not have been cold enough. Still the best of the lot. It was a flavorful smooth smokey beer.

I’m not sure why American take on smoke beers involve Porters. Perhaps it’s because they use dark roasted grains and thought why not ad a bit of smoke. I’d prefer the porter flavors not compete with the smoke flavors and that’s why I liked the urbock and märzen better.

I’ll leave you with this great piece by the late Michael Jackson (the other Michael Jackson) on smoke beers if you want to know more.

Smoke ’em of you got ’em