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. The 2nd Period was a tough match up of the Schlenkerla and Spezial Bocks. The 3rd Period featured the breweries’ only non-smoke beers, Schlenkerla Lager and Spezial Ungespundet. This overtime period has the two breweries’ flagships facing off. We’re looking at Schlenkerla Märzen and Spezial Lager.
Schlenkerla Märzen vs Spezial Lager
Samples: Schlenkerla Märzen 5.1% (expiration date July 2023) vs. Spezial Lager 4.9% (April 2023) Compared on February 19, 2023.
1st Period: Both poured beautifully with gorgeous ample heads. Head retention was better for Schlenkerla. Hue of Spezial is more enticing. Nose of Schlenkerla more robust. Slight edge Schlenkerla.
2nd Period: They both have a medium body but the Schlenkerla has a better mouthfeel. The malt of the Spezial is more pronounced due perhaps to the subdued smoke. Schlenkerla is much smokier with its reminiscent of smoked ham signature element and is ultimately more flavorful. Edge Schlenkerla.
3rd Period: Both are clean, semi-dry and semi-bitter. Tie.
Hard fought but the clear winner is Schlenerkla Märzen.
Spezial seems a bit more erratic when it comes to bottling. We did a second bottle of each and the Spezial head wasn’t as ample. This is also a comparison across styles, a fuller Märzen and session lager so Spezial is at a bit of a disadvantage. That said, these are the two flagships and thus what people compare on say a first trip to Bamberg. It’s also what people would mentally compare if they were inclined to do so. Without a doubt, most would find the Spezial beer more quaffable but I’ve often sessioned on the Schlenkerla Märzen and I’m not the only one as the crowds there will attest. I will say Spezial Lager is much different on tap and I find it drier. To counter, Schlenkerla Märzen is from the barrel at their pub and is much softer. Unsurprisingly, I would choose Schlenkerla if I had to pick one but thankfully I don’t have to make that choice. You shouldn’t either. They’re both very special so by all means, enjoy them both.
If you’ve enjoyed this Overtime Period, please check out the 1st, 2nd and 3rd (replay 3rd) Periods. The Face-offs have been fun so I’ll try to get my hands on a Spezial Weizen glass so I can compare it to Schlenkerla’s in a shoot-out. 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: