As the days grow shorter and the temperatures drop, the time seems right to sip a beer by the fire—or at least feel like you are, with a smoked beer. The story of these brews starts in the Franconia region of Germany, in the 1400s with rauchbier, German for “smoke beer.” Malted barley was dried over an open flame, which resulted in a smoky flavor. The introduction of indirect heat to dry grain later lessened the smokiness. A handful of traditional German breweries still make rauchbier, however, and craft breweries all over are making smoky bottlings. Here are a few to try.
Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen
An award-winning brewery in Bamberg, Germany, it’s one of a handful that’s made rauchbier continuously since the 1400s. With the motto “Preserving tradition means to keep the fire burning, not to conserve the ashes,” it proves that classics never go out of style.
Coffee and Cigarettes
Cellarmaker Brewing Company
With a name inspired by a Jim Jarmusch film, this coffee porter is flavored with beechwood smoked malt, not cigarettes. “I like how clean the beechwood smoke flavor is,” says Tim Sciascia, Cellarmaker’s co-founder/head brewer. “It blends in with the coffee and dark malts.”
Pumpkin The Bear
Hanging Hills Brewing Company
In Hartford, Connecticut, Hanging Hills teamed up with local barbecue joint Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ to reinvent pumpkin beer. The result is a doppelbock made with smoked pumpkin. “I always believe that what grows together, goes together,” says Joe Ploof, the founder/brewer. “In this case, pumpkins are harvested in fall, and hogs get butchered right around the same time.”
Alaskan Brewing Company
Smoked beer was uncommon in the U.S. until 1988, when this beer was created. It’s a dark delight that uses local, glacier-fed water and native alder wood, also used to smoke salmon. It takes “drink local” to another level, and the vintage-dated bottles are ideal to cellar.
Smoke & Dagger Black Lager
Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers
Jack’s Abby, based in Framingham, Massachusetts, brews this smoked schwarzbier, or black lager, with traditional old-world ingredients while also using modern lagering techniques. Smoky yet sessionable, it’s a robustly flavored yet surprisingly crisp pour that’s a great campfire companion.