|The heavenly source, 2003.|
To know me is to know I’ve loved smoked beer since the first time I tried it, back in the 1980s, which probably was a Kaiserdom Rauchbier. It used to be in Merchant du Vin’s repertoire well into the 1990s, although I’m unsure whether it or the Kaiserdom brewery itself still exists — and I’m too lazy to Google it.
That’s because we have Schlenkerla these days.
My first trip to Bamberg came in 1991, and later I learned that yes, Kaiserdom’s example was brewed primarily for export — in 1995, they seemed completely confused that anyone would want to know about smoked beer, even after my letter specified this as the only reason we were interested in visiting — but I also saw plenty of locals in town queuing up to drink Schlenkerla and Spezial.
This made me indescribably happy.
Today’s linked posting at Atlas Obscura strikes me as a perfectly reasonable introduction to the genre of smoky flavored beers, so naturally, I saw the article subsequently mentioned somewhere on Facebook, and found a heated debate among purists as to whether Garrett Oliver’s description of a firebox was technically accurate, how such glaring errors as this fatally compromised his stewardship as editor of the Oxford Companion to Beer, and whether every “t” was crossed and “i” dotted — and I was muttering obscenities to myself.
Give me a freaking break.
I thought: Have any of you ever stood behind a bar and tried to help a real person understand what smoked beer was all about, with the goal of encouraging the customer to try one, and maybe even enjoy it?
While not deserving of a Pulitzer, I actually have done so, and I did it for something like 30 years, so please: silence the bullshit pedantry.
People at the bar just want to know why the beer tastes smoky, and it’s very easy to understand that your wet coat hanging next to the fireplace will come away smelling … well, like smoke, even if only lightly given the smoke is venting through the chimney. So will grain, and more so, when smoke passes through it.
Lesson learned; can we drink yet?
For normal folks wanting to try something new, it really isn’t necessary to delve into molecular biology, advanced chemistry, the history of wood and the composition of rare Norwegian yeast. These might help, but what you need on a daily basis is a repeatable story to tell — not a “fake” story, mind you, but one rooted in fact that is entertaining and will seal the deal.
Now decant an Eiche if you’ve got one and read this.
Why All Beer Once Tasted Like Smoke, by Jim Clarke (Atlas Obscura)
Those were the days.
… Refreshment isn’t the only reason to drink beer, of course, and some beer drinkers didn’t want to give up their smoky brews. Certain areas in Norway and Poland clung to a smoky style. Grodziskie, a smoked Polish wheat beer, persisted until the 1930s, and has been resurrected by some American craft breweries. Homebrewers in Norway shared communal malting houses using the old, smoky malting process until the 1970s. Homebrewer John Morten Granås resurrected the traditional malt house a few decades ago, and now the Stjørdal area east of Trondheim is home to a few dozen.
Commercially, only in Bamberg, Germany, have several brewpubs persisted in making smoke beers (Rauchbier, in German) since the Middle Ages. Much of the move to pale, smoke-free malts was tied up with industrialization, and bucolic Bamberg, in the heart of Franconia (the northern part of Bavaria), missed out.
“Bamberg is, by German standards, far away from any industrialized areas,” says Matthias Trum, the sixth generation brewmaster and owner of Aecht Schlenkerla. “We never had much industrialization here, especially no coal or steel industry. Coal was somewhat hard to acquire here, and it was easier for brewers to stick with wood as fuel.”
I’m delighted to know that Eiderdown’s reboot has been a success, but I can’t seem to find the beer list.
Any smoked beer there?
Eiderdown goes back to its roots, remains a delight, by Robin Garr (LEO Weekly)
The new menu gets touched up every now and then, but the basics stay the same. It’s distinctly, but not entirely, German; it’s not overly long, with just six entrées, a half-dozen sandwiches, a variety of house-made sausages and a list of appetizing snacks and starters. The $32 steak au poivre is gone from the menu, replaced by a $16 beef rouladen. The Sunday Sitdown chicken dinner remains, but it’s now $19, a few bucks under its original price. Everything else is $16 or less; house sausages are all $11, and the bar snacks and starters all fall in the single digits. Much of the meats, cheeses and produce are locally sourced, and the sausages, pretzels, beer cheese and desserts are all made in house.
As you’d expect from an eatery whose owners also operate the nearby Nachbar, Eiderdown’s beverages program is worthy, with an extensive, German-accented beer list and 21 taps, credibly promoted as “the most extensive German beer selection in town.” There’s plenty of local craft beer too, along with full bar service and a short, but thoughtful, wine list.
Finally, fresh news from the legislative trenches in Indiana.
Senate panel kills cold beer bill while Sunday alcohol sales gains momentum, by Robert King (Indy Star)
A legislative push to allow wider Sunday alcohol sales gained momentum Wednesday while an effort to expand the sale of cold beer likely suffered a death blow.
The push for Sunday carryout sales — approved Wednesday by a House committee 12 to 1 and passed unanimously last week by a Senate panel — seems on a fast track to passage.
But a bill to allow grocery and convenience stores to sell cold beer was defeated in a Senate committee Wednesday by a 9-to-1 vote, likely signaling its death for this session.
The starkly divergent paths for the bills is neatly following the path key lawmakers predicted months ago but also closely reflects the outline of the deal struck in the fall between the powerful liquor store lobby and big box stores — a deal to support Sunday sales but to oppose cold beer’s expansion.