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 fifth comparison is one of the more interesting, pitting the mid-range seasonal Fastenbier against the brewery’s heaviest hitter, Eiche
Schlenkerla Fastenbier vs Schlenkerla Eiche
Round 1: They both pour beautifully and attest to the craftsmanship of the master brewer. The heads are majestically massive and long lasting. The Fastenbier’s was over the top, insanely huge and chiffon-like. It was a shade darker in hue, though unfiltered. I like the dark stuff but the clarity of the Eiche with light shining through it has a certain charm too. I’d call it even.
Round 2: The Fastenbier has a whiff of yeast in the otherwise smoky nose. The Eiche is much more subtle and perhaps complex with some whisky-like notes. I find the Fastenbier more enticing but the complexity of the Eiche has its own allure. I’d have to call it a draw.
Round 3: They’re both full-bodied. Comparing the palate of the two shows just how different smoke beer can be, even from the same brewery. The Fastenbier is smoother and more approachable, with the yeasty element mingling with the smoke effortlessly. The whiskey element does much the same for the Eiche. The Fastenbier is hoppier up front but less bitter in the finish. Again, it’s a toss-up.
Round 4: Finishes are what we often hinge a beer on and both have strong ones. The Fastenbier is a bit drier and that’s probably its strongest asset. 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 it even.
For the first time in the series, we have a split decision. While the Eiche is not a sessionable beer at 8%, it’s a seductive sipper. The Fastenbier is a hearty session beer at 5.9%. 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.