Smoked beer (German: Rauchbier) is a type of beer with a distinctive smoke flavour imparted by using malted barley dried over an open flame. The Rauchbiers of Bamberg in Germany, Schlenkerla in particular, are the best-known of the smoked beers.
Drying malt over an open flame may impart a smoky character to the malt. This character may carry over to beers brewed with the smoked malt. Prior to the modern era, drying malted barley in direct sunlight was used in addition to drying over flames. Even though kiln drying of malt, using indirect heat, did not enter into widespread usage until the industrial era, the method was known as early as the first century BC. Also, there have been various methods over the years of preparing cereal grains for brewing, including making beer from bread, so smoked beer was not universal.
Beginning in the 18th century, kiln drying of malt became progressively more common and, by the mid-19th century, had become the near-universal method for drying malted grain. Since the kiln method shunts the smoke away from the wet malt, a smoky flavour is not imparted to the grain, nor to the subsequent beer. As a result, smoke flavour in beer became less and less common, and eventually disappeared almost entirely from the brewing world.
Certain breweries maintained the smoked beer tradition by continuing to use malt which had been dried over open flames. Two brewpubs in Bamberg, Germany—Schlenkerla and Spezial—have continued smoked beer production for centuries. Both are still in operation today, alongside seven other breweries in the same town. Both dry their malt over fires made from beechwood logs, and produce several varieties of Rauchbier ("smoke beer" in German). And since the Rauchbier tradition was preserved only in Bamberg continuously, the beer style is also often referred to as "Bamberg Rauchbier (smokebeer)" or "Bamberg style smoked beer".
Due to the craft beer revolution in recent years, industrially made, smoke flavored malts became available, and so the style has a renaissance world wide and even in its heartland Franconia and Bamberg. The traditional, elaborate way of smoke malting however, as only Schlenkerla and Spezial are doing it, thereby becomes even more an exception. Therefore in 2017 SlowFood enlisted those two last remaining traditional Rauchbiers into their Ark of Taste.
Smoked beers outside Germany
In Canada, Les Trois Mousquetaires makes a smoked beer, and Half Pints Brewing Company the seasonal Smoktoberfest. Also, Church-Key brewing of Campbellford, Ontario produces a peat smoked Scotch ale called Holy Smoke. Cameron's brewing in Oakville, Ontario produces Bamburg Castle smoked ale.
In the Netherlands, Emelisse produces a traditional German-style Rauchbier, as well as a smoked porter and a peated imperial Russian stout. Brouwerij De Molen has several different smoked beers, such as Bloed, Zweet & Tranen and Rook & Vuur. Othmar also produces a traditional smoked beer, named Rauchbier.
In the United States, the Alaskan Brewing Company, Caldera Brewing Company, 49th State Brewing, Great Basin Brewing Company, New Glarus Brewing Company, Revolution Brewing, Surly Brewing Company, Jack's Abby, Red Rock Brewing, and Samuel Adams, Queen City Brewery, VT http://www.queencitybrewery.com/ make and distribute smoked beers influenced by the Rauchbiers of Bamberg. Victory Brewing Company makes a marzen-style labelled Scarlet Fire at its Downingtown, Pennsylvania brewery. Tomfoolery Brewing in Hammonton, NJ has a cherry wood smoked lager called Rauchbier. The New Paltz Brewing Company (Pfälzerbräu) in the Hudson Valley, NY makes both a Rauchbier Lager and an extremely rare Rauchweizen (Smoked Wheat Beer).
In Lithuania, Dundulis brewery produces a smoked beer called "Juodvarnių".
In the United Kingdom, Meantime Brewery produces Winter Time, a smoked old ale, and Kelham Island Brewery in Sheffield Brooklyn Smoked Porter in association with Brooklyn Brewery. Adnams bottles a Smoked Ruby (4.7% ABV), using cherry wood, exclusively for Marks & Spencer and has brewed a similar, limited edition, 1659 Smoked Ruby Ale to commemorate the 1659 fire of Southwold. Beavertown brew a smoked porter called Smog Rocket.
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