Bamberg, situated in the northern part of Bavaria known as Franconia, is historically important as a former outpost of the Roman Empire. In the world of beer, it may be the epicenter of brewing. Of the 1,300 breweries in Germany, half are in Bavaria, 300 are in Franconia, and about 100 surround the city of Bamberg. Nine call the city home. It is also a malting center, home to the venerable and famous Weyermann Specialty Malting Co. Bamberg is also an agricultural center and very traditional. Perhaps this is why the city’s brewers have held on to their roots.
Bamberg’s rauchbiers are the only smoked beers that have been brewed without interruption over the centuries; others are recreations. When all other brewers were more than elated to move away from the rough character of the smoky brews, Bamberg embraced them. According to the brewers, this is merely a matter of tradition and nothing more.
The breweries in and around Bamberg brew a wide range of German-style beers–bocks, pilsners, helles, dunkels, and even weissbiers–and many of them make a one-of brew that contains a measure of rauchmalz. Two family-owned breweries, however, brew rauchbier almost exclusively.
The Brauerei Heller-Trum Schlenkerla is widely considered to be the quintessential rauchbier brewery. Its rauchbier märzen is a world classic. A rauchbier weizen and a rauchbier ur-bock also grace the portfolio. Schlenkerla does its own maltings, a rarity among breweries, even in Germany today, and uses the indigenous beech wood, aged to perfection, to kiln the green malt.
The märzen and bock use exclusively rauchmalz. All beers are labeled “Aecht,” denoting an original type. While it is the smoky tail that wags the dog at Schlenkerla, the classic märzen, bock and weizen characteristics emerge wonderfully from beneath the smoke. In each case, the style of beer is not in question. Of the two rauchbier breweries in Bamberg, Schlenkerla is the more intrepid.
The Brauerei Spezial, founded in 1536, is the oldest of the rauchbier brewers in Bamberg. Though they make a rauchbier in the märzen style as a seasonal, their signature rauchbier is more in keeping with the Vienna style. There is a soft maltiness and a relatively mellow smoke character. It contains 40 percent rauchmalz and 60 percent Bavarian pilsner malt, and has an alcohol by volume content of 5 percent. The märzen is much bolder, with 70 percent rauchmalz, a deep amber color, and the requisite malty opulence.