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 (and non-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 featured the breweries’ only non-smoke beers facing off, where Schlenkerla Lager was out-skated by Spezial Ungespundet. To be honest, since the Spezial U is unfiltered I had wanted to use the limited unfiltered version of the Schlenkerla Lager but it wasn’t available at the time. I recently picked up a couple of bottles for this replay of the 3rd Period where Schlenkerla unfiltered Lager faces off against Spezial Ungespundet. The samples were also fresher.
Schlenkerla unfiltered Lager vs Spezial Ungespundet
Samples: unfiltered Lager 4.3% (Oct 23) vs Ungespundet 5% (June23) drunk April 23rd
1st Period: Both poured gorgeously but Schlenkerla had the more impressive head and head retention. Similar unfiltered visual appeal in color with the Spezial slightly deeper golden. Nose is grainy in both, Spezial more robust. Slight edge Schlenkerla.
2nd Period: The Spezial is a bit more rounded in the palate with a nicer grain element. Schlenkerla is slightly hoppier and hint of smoke is intriguing. Tie.
3rd Period: Both are clean, semi-dry and semi-bitter. Tie.
The unfiltered version of the Schlenkerla Lager makes a comeback for a tie.
The clear winner was Spezial Ungespundet in the match up against the filtered version of the Lager but the unfiltered version holds its own. The formerly tap only Spezial Ungespundet has only been bottled since COVID. It was in great form, especially in light of previous Spezial face-offs. The Schlenkerla unfiltered Lager also made a comeback visually after the lackluster pour of the filtered Lager last time. It was nice to taste the hint of smoke which seemed entirely absent last time out. While brewed without any smoked malt, it generally has a very light smoke element. 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. I didn’t get any of in the last sample but it was very much present in this unfiltered and fresher sample. The U is perhaps more rounded but the unfiltered Lager has in intriguing hint of smoke and the hops make for a crisper beer. I also should point out that the Lager is 4.3% to the U’s 5% and certainly is just as tasty, no mean feat. I think in this particular match up, we prefer the Lager but I couldn’t give it a clear win over a beer many would pick.
If you’ve enjoyed the replay of the 3rd Period, please check out the 1st, 2nd and original 3rd Periods. With Spezial coming in strong in the 3rd Period, 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: