It’s not always easy to add or change the flavor of a beer in Germany. By law, it is not allowed to mix in anything but hops, grain, yeast and water. So any flavor of the beer has to derive from those ingredients.
Rauchbier is one of those beers that managed to come up with a highly distinct taste by manipulating one of it’s components. Rauchbier means ‘smoke beer’ and that’s exactly what happened to it’s malt – it’s been smoked. Bamberg is probably the best known town for this beer.
As the legend goes one brewer’s malt storage caught fire one day and by the time the fire was put out the malt had already taken on the flavor of the smoke. As it would have been the brewer’s ruin to loose his whole stock, the product had to be sold. So the brewer just went on with his business and used the smoked barely for his beer brewing. In the end it turned out the customers actually appreciated the taste quite a lot and the brewer from then on took up the habit of smoking his malt.
Technically many beers in centuries long past were smoke beers. The reason for this simply is that smoke was used to dry and preserve the malt, which in that period of little technological advancement was the only alternative to sun drying. The latter of which was way inferior when it comes to achieving prolonged storability. With the emergence of more modern desiccation processes the smoke flavor started to disappear. Still some smoke beers have lived through modernization though as there still is quite a share of beer drinkers who at least once in a while opt for their strong and distinctive taste. Imagine the flavor to be like drinking beer while eating a really intense piece of gammon. Or actually, if you want so, one might even be inclined to compare it to a strong barrique wine, which also has those smoky flavors.
Written by Anna-Barbara Schmidt