While smoke beer is unlikely to ever go entirely mainstream, it has been garnering more and much deserved attention as of late. The new inductees seem to consider the beer a slow sipper relegated to the colder months but for locals in Bamberg, it’s a regular session beer. I personally find it quite quaffable myself and have come to appreciate the variations in the overall style, even within a given brewery’s line-up. Schlenkerla, for example, has not only its flagship smoky Märzen and Rauchweizen but also four exceptional seasonal brews, all using their own smoke-infused malt.
still gravity dispensed from wooden barrels at Schlenkerla
If at their pub, you’ll know if one is on if you see two wooden barrels and Schlenkerla does a good job of calling your attention to their seasonals, with small placards announcing them on their tables. You’ll never see anything “leftover” from the previous specialty. They run out a few weeks before the next one is up so comparing them on tap is not really an option. So, you have to squirrel away some bottles if you want to see them go head-to-head. I’ve never been good at doing it but this year, I am going to make a more concerted effort. First up are my two personal favorites: their Urbock and Fastenbier.
Schlenkerla Urbock vs Schlenkerla Fastenbier
Round 1 was close and showcased how well-brewed they are with ample, rocky lasting heads atop both. The Urbock’s was a touch darker and longer lasting. Its rich dark hue also perhaps conjures what a Rauchbier should look like. The ruddy colored Fastenbier has a more refreshing appearance. I might give a slight nod to the Urbock but I have to admit to a personal preference for dark beer. Round 2 was also a stand-off with an oily smoky nose to the Urbock and a lovely interplay of yeast and smoke in the Fastenbier. Round 3 showed just how different the beers are with the Fastenbier lighter in body and the yeast element mingling well with its smokiness. The Urbock has a much more robust smoke element and the oiliness of the nose carries over into the palate. One thing often overlooked is the fine hop quality of the Schlenkerla beers and these two in particular feature them prominently. Round 4 may have been the Urbock’s strongest with a slightly cleaner and more bitter finish. They both are surprisingly dry and sessionable beers but that may be where the Fastenbier is the better choice since it’s 5.9% to the Urbock’s 6.5%. I think in the end, it’s a matter of what you are looking for but though they are a close 1 and 2 for me at Schlenkerla, I’d have to say the Urbock is the winner in this tough fought battle.