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 (this was recently possible when business was so slow due to COVID, both the Urbock and Eiche were available from the barrel on a couple of weekends). 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 sixth and final comparison pits the heaviest of the Schlenkerla seasonal beers against the lightest. The Kräusen is a mix of the standard Märzen and Lager, making for a very approachable brew at 4.5%. It’s the least smoky as well. The Eiche is more refined and complex at 8%. It should be an interesting match-up.
Schlenkerla Kräusen vs Schlenkerla Eiche
Round 1: They both pour beautifully and show craft beer isn’t a new phenomenon in Franconia. The heads are majestically massive and long lasting. The Kräusen’s was insanely huge and quite light and chiffon-like. The Eiche’s is darker and less formidable but it has a gorgeous clear dark hue in contrast to the Kräusen’s murky unfiltered appearance. I’d call it even.
Round 2: The Kräusen has a mix of grain, hops and light smoke in the nose. The Eiche is much more subtle and complex with a hint of whisky. I find the Eiche more enticing. Edge: Eiche.
Round 3: The Kräusen is much lighter bodied as you’d expect in two beers 3.5% different in alcohol content. Comparing the palate of the two shows just how different smoke beer can be, even from the same brewery. The Kräusen is simpler and easier to drink, with the grainy element mingling with the smoke effortlessly. The whiskey element does much the same for the Eiche. The Kräusen is hoppier up front and more bitter in the finish. I’d give the nod to the Eiche here.
Round 4: Finishes are what we often hinge a beer on and again you’re looking at two different fighters here. The Kräusen has a clean bitter finish. The Eiche is a more lingering experience with perhaps a more rounded melding of the flavors. It’s certainly drier than most 8% beers so I’m forced to call this one for the Eiche too.
As you might have expected, no matter how good a fighter a lightweight is, it’s generally a long losing battle against a heavyweight. Eiche is the clear winner. While not a sessionable beer at 8%, it’s a seductive sipper. The Kräusen is a true session beer at 4.5%. They both certainly have their purposes. By all means, seek both out. From the barrel, in either case, it’s a heavenly smoky experience.
Heading to Bamberg? Don’t leave home without The Pocket Guide to Bamberg’s Best Beer.