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. 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.
comparing Schlenkerla & Spezial smoke beers
The 1st Period compared the Schlenkerla and Spezial Märzens. In the 2nd Period, it was a tough match up of the Schlenkerla and Spezial Bocks. The 3rd Period features the breweries’ only non-smoke beers facing off. We’re looking at Schlenkerla Lager and Spezial Ungespundet.
Schlenkerla Lager vs Spezial Ungespundet
Samples: Schlenkerla Lager 4.3% (expiration date May 2023) vs. Spezial Ungespundet 5% (April 2023) Compared on February 18, 2023.
1st Period: Both poured well but Spezial had a better head and head retention. First time in the series for that. Clarity in Schlenkerla is more enticing. Nose is grainy in both, Spezial more robust. Edge Spezial.
2nd Period: The Spezial is a bit more rounded in the palate with a nicer grain element. Schlenkerla is slightly hoppier. Slight edge to Spezial.
3rd Period: Both are clean, semi-dry and semi-bitter. Tie.
The clear winner is Spezial Ungespundet.
This formerly tap only beer has only been bottled since COVID. It was in great form, especially in light of the two previous face-offs. Oddly, Schlenkerla had its weakest visual outing and perhaps even stranger was a complete absence of smokiness in both the nose and palate. I’ve generally had amazing head retention with this beer and while brewed without any smoked malt, it’s generally has a very light smoke element, it seemed missing this time. This is imparted from using the same yeast as for their smoke beers, which is unwashed, according to Schlenkerla owner Matthias Turm. He said it does vary quite a bit from batch to batch.
If you’ve enjoyed the 3rd Period, please check out the 1st and 2nd Periods. With Spezial pulling out a 3rd Period comeback, look for an overtime Period 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: