Bamberg is blessed when it comes to breweries and when it comes to those that specialize in smoke beer, they are doubly so. There is little argument that if it weren’t for Schlenkerla, no one in the modern world would have ever heard of let alone attempted brewing a smoky beer. It just so happens that there’s another such brewery in town and for many, Spezial outshines its more famous rival. Let’s put a little perspective on things in case there is any question, these are not only world class breweries which date back to the middle ages, but they define an entire style of beer like few others. All other smoke beers are invariably compared to them and I’ve yet to hear anyone say one was better.
Schlenkerla & Spezial are indeed special
Comparing the assortment of smoke beers from Schlenkerla has been a fun and interesting exercise but I’ve shied away from comparing the two rival smoke beer breweries of Bamberg head-to-head. That was for good reason as there are not only many proponents on both sides but they also feel quite passionately about it. Since I spent so much time on what became the Schlenkerla series, I guess you can see where my allegiance is but I love Spezial as well and go there often. In fact, I was there not so long ago and was enjoying an unfiltered version of their Märzen and was blown away by it. You don’t really see the Märzen so much and I seem to miss it when it’s out. I’ve always thought that comparing Schlenkerla Märzen to Spezial Lager wasn’t really the most fair match-up as they were entirely different styles, even within the Rauchbier vein. So, I picked up a bottle of Spezial Märzen and brought it home to compare them. This again is meant to be a fun exercise so I want to qualify it right off the bat. Schlenkerla and Spezial are not only the two best breweries in brewery-rich Bamberg, they are the two greatest Rauchbier breweries in the world. They both uniquely smoke their own malt so they have no true competition and without them, there likely would not be a smoke beer brewed anywhere else. So, whoever comes in second when the puck drops will not have to hang their head when leaving the rink.
Schlenkerla Mäzren vs Spezial Märzen
Samples: Schlenkerla Märzen 5.1% (expiration date May 2023) vs. Spezial Märzen 5.3% (February 2023)
Compared on January 22, 2023.
1st Period: Spezial poured well but not nearly as impressively as Schlenkerla. Schlenkerla’s head was ample with a rocky chiffon-like sturdiness. Spezial was creamier but thinning. Head retention was much better with the Schlenkerla. The nose was dramatically stronger in the Schlenkerla with smoked ham prominent. Spezial had a light smokiness to it. Edge: Schlenkerla
2nd Period: Spezial is milder in the smoke aspect in the palate, perhaps more desirable to some but Schlenkerla has a distinctive smoked ham element and has a more robust flavor. Schlenkerla tends to be sharp in bottled form and the Spezial doesn’t exhibit that. With less smoke, the malt of the Spezial shines more clearly. Slight edge: Schlenkerla.
3rd Period: Spezial has a more lingering finish whereas Schlenkerla’s is cleaner, perhaps due to the higher hopping rate. Edge: Schlenkerla.
Schlenkerla Märzen wins easily.
*I will have to say the bottle of Spezial Märzen was closer to expiration but it’s not as readily available as Schlenkerla and I got what I could get my hands on. That said, I’ve had bottles of Schlenkerla that were months past date which were still robust.
I was surprised at how uneven this face-off turned out. When I drank the Spezial Märzen on its own at their pub, I actually felt it would fare very well against Schlenkerla’s flagship but when going head-to-head, it may have simply overpowered the far maltier Spezial beer. If you just look at them as Märzens, Spezial is the much better example in that sense but they are, after all, first and foremost smoke beers and when the puck fell, Spezial fell short.
Look for a continuation in this series. It’s not over until all beers have left the ice and the smoked lady sings.
If you’ve enjoyed the first period of the Schlenkerla vs Spezial Face-off, please consider buying me a Rauchbier 🍺
Heading to Bamberg? Don’t leave home without The Pocket Guide to Bamberg’s Best Beer.
Guided walks around the breweries in Bamberg or hikes to countryside breweries: