Beer Basics: Discover Rauchbier

Beer Basics: Discover Rauchbier

Rauchbier is often described as ‘liquid bacon’ and, depending on your palate, this might not be the most appealing introduction to this smoked German style. ‘Rauch’ means smoke in German, referring to the beechwood smoked malt, German Rauchmalz, which makes up between 20-100% of its grist.

The tradition of smoked beer dates back to a time where all malt was exposed to smoke from the wood used in kilns during the drying process. Prior to the mid-1700s and the introduction of direct-fired kilns, most beers in Europe would have demonstrated a palpable smoky quality. Now malt can be kilned without producing smoke as a byproduct (usually air-dried), but this kilning tradition is still preserved in the German city of Bamberg.

Like most Bavarian beers, rauchbiers are lagered – meaning that they’re stored in cold temperatures during their slow fermentation. The lager yeast imparts a clean profile, letting the balance between rich malts and a varying amount of smoke really come to the forefront of this beer style. Rauchbier can range from light to dark brown in colour depending on the quantity of Rauchmalz used. Although they present a host of intense flavours, rauchbiers still finish bone-dry, resulting in a surprisingly crisp beer. The base of the beer is most commonly a Märzen, a complex and well-rounded copper lager that was once the beer served at Munich’s Oktoberfest celebrations (before it was fazed out in favour of a lighter, easy-drinking Festbier).

There are obvious food pairing choices with rauchbier, given its rich malty and uniquely smoky profile. Any proteins that can be thrown on a barbecue are an effortless match. The rich malt profile can mirror the caramelization of meat and the complementary smokiness of both melts together in the mouth. Another natural pairing is pork, a German staple foodstuff, in a myriad of forms, whether it's fresh bacon or braised pork belly.

Naturally, smoked fish can work beautifully with rauchbier, especially salmon. Smoked flavours are also ubiquitous in Mexican cuisine, so think about ancho chillies and black beans. In fact, rauchbier demonstrates a great amount of versatility that it’s rarely given credit for, so get creative. In The Brewmaster’s Table, Garret Oliver posits on the beer style’s adaptability:

It may be a stretch, but I almost think that we must have an instinctive prehistoric memory of the days when much of our food came into direct contact with fire. There’s something about smoky flavors that is deeply satisfying, something that is not easy to explain logically.
— p.342

The umami factor can also play a pivotal role in effective pairing. When served with tenderloin and creamy mashed potatoes, the beer worked with the sweetness of the pork. However, it was the gravy – enhanced with a dash of the smoked beer – that really stole the show and pulled everything together.

Modern Rauchbier:

Classic Rauchbier:

Try them with

  • Smoked foods, such as ham, pork, sausage, cheese and  fish.
  • Many forms of pork, such as ribs, pork roast or pork belly.
  • Some Chinese foods, especially black bean sauce.
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