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 have made a more concerted effort. This third comparison showcases the lightest and the second strongest. It’s time for their Kräusen and Urbock to weigh in.
Schlenkerla Urbock vs Schlenkerla Kräusen
Round 1 wasn’t as close and as expected with the somewhat aged but still within sell date Kräusen displaying one of the rockiest, ample and long lasting heads in recent memory. The dark head of the Urbock was lovely but no match for the mountain atop the lighter beer. Nod to the Kräusen. The darker Urbock still appealed to me compared to the relatively light colored Kräusen. I guess when it comes to smoky beers, I still see them as dark in my heart. Call it even. Round 2 was clearly in the Urbock’s favor with a much richer and almost oily smokiness in the nose compared to a rather light smoky element intermixed with some yeast in the Kräusen. Round 3 showed just how different smoke beers can be with the Kräusen lighter in body and a firm hop presence right off the bat. There’s smoke but it’s certainly not the most prominent flavor. The Urbock has a much more robust smoke element and the oiliness of the nose carries over into the palate. The hops are buried initially but come later. 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 more complex lingering finish. They both are surprisingly dry and sessionable beers but that may be where the Kräusen is the better choice since it’s only 4.5% to the Urbock’s 6.5%. The Urbock, on the other hand, has to be respected at that strength. It should be sipped no matter how easy it is to drink. I think in the end, it’s a matter of what you are looking for and I do enjoy the Kräusen when at the pub in summer. We even got a case delivered this year and found it a nice lightly smoky summery beer for the backyard. I’d have to say the Urbock is my favorite of the Schlenkerla seasonal beers. As much as I’ve grown to love Bamberg in summer, my first impressions of the town from the 90s were in winter when the pubs are at their most cozy and. This was a tougher fight than I had envisioned but the winner is the Urbock.
Heading to Bamberg? Don’t leave home without The Pocket Guide to Bamberg’s Best Beer.