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, however, 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 nearly two 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).
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.
In the Netherlands, Emelisse produces a traditional German 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.
In the United States, the Alaskan Brewing Company, Great Basin Brewing Company, New Glarus Brewing Company, Revolution Brewing, Surly Brewing Company, and Samuel Adams make and distribute smoked beers influenced by the Rauchbiers of Bamberg. Triumph Brewing produces a beer it calls a Rauchbier, served at its brewpub. Devils Backbone Brewing Company has served both smoke lager (Smokehaus) and Smoke Porter at its brewpub in Virginia.
- Brewery Schlenkerla
- Brewery Spezial (German)
- Bambergs brewing tradition
- Braucommune Freistadt (German)
- Cervejaria Eisenbahn (Portuguese)
- Chuckanut Brewery featured Brewery
- BJCP style guidelines for smoked beer