Rauchbier. The literal translation works well again but it’s smoke beer, not smoked beer as most refer to it. Not only is this how the language works (it’s not geräuchertes Bier), but also how the beer is made. The beer is not smoked, the malt is and that is prior to the brewing process. No matter, Rauchbier sounds much cooler and since it’s the style which defines Franconia in the eyes of the world, it’s one to know. As you might imagine, making beer back in the olden days was surely much more difficult than today and the malting process involved fires, which generally necessitated wood. Where there’s wood, there’s smoke and smoke tends to impart flavor. So, it’s imaginable that much of early beer, at least when fire was used in the malting, had some kind of smoky element. Of course, that’s not necessary now but some of the breweries in Franconia still used it, and much to their advantage in creating some world classic brews.
the big Bamberg Rauchbiers plus Gänstaller from Schnaid
It’s likely that every beer tourist (and most of the regular tourists) has one thing they have to try in Bamberg: Rauchbier. Schlenkerla Märzen is that one beer and their atmospheric pub is another can’t miss experience. It’s the last of the wood barrel experiences in town so enjoy while you can. Always check for the seasonal (also amazingly from the barrel). Perhaps one notch down on the fame level is many people’s favorite, Spezial Lagerbier, which is less smokey but no less tasty. Klosterbräu Rauchbier is the new kid on the Bamberg Rauchbier block but it’s excellent nonetheless. I had Gänstaller Rauch Märzen at Cafe Abeits in Bamberg recently and it was really gorgeous. These are typical Rauchbiers. They tend to be dark with the newer additions being quite dark to nearly black. They also hover around 5%. While many find the taste quite strong, locals drink it like any other beer and I’ll have to say, I find it quite a session beer myself.
some less smoky alternative Rauchbiers
There are also some Rauchbiers with a bit less smoke, running the gamut of colors. Hummel Räucherla from Merkendorf looks a bit like the Bamberg Rauchbiers and is probably closest to Spezial, with a nice mix of hops and smoke. Knoblach Rauchbier is hoppy, typical of the brewery. Huppendorf Grachäds is a great session Rauchbier if you’re lucky to be in the village when on tap. Drei Kronen Stöffla (a smoke Kellerbier) from Memmelsdorf is another great introduction to the style. If in Kemmern and you can pry yourself away from the two gravity barrel beers, Wagner-Bräu Kuckuck, also on regular tap, is a fine one too. I’ve only had a bottle of it once, but Reh Rauchbier is a very night lightly smoky brew.