Since the home and craft brewing boom began, most types of fruits, grains, adjuncts, flavors and spices have been tried at one time or another as either an innovation or a tribute to a traditional or indigenous brew. Thankfully, some of these “innovations” have gone the way of “My Mother The Car.” Many, however, have added to the beer experience. One pairing that has not worn out its welcome is that of beer and smoke. To the uninitiated, they seem odd bedfellows, but when done properly, they accompany one another rather nicely.
Therein lies the key—combining the beer character with smoke to get a balanced and drinkable brew. This would seem a daunting task, and it is. But thanks to a new book in the Classic Beer Style Series, Smoked Beers by Ray Daniels and Geoffrey Larson, the guesswork has been eliminated.
Daniels and Larson really know their way around a craft brew. Daniels is a noted beer author, the organizer of Chicago’s Real Ale Festival, and editor-in-chief of Zymurgy magazine. Larson is the brew master, founder and president of the Alaskan Brewing Co. He has won many brewing awards and features in his repertoire one of the better smoked beers around, Alaskan Smoked Porter. The book is as impressive as the authors’ resumes as they explore every angle and aspect of the beer and smoke coupling.
As in all of the Classic Beer Style Series books, much attention is given to the history of the featured beer in the first chapter. The authors tackle the challenging task of researching not a style, but a flavor character that once was common in many, if not most, beers, regardless of style. They trace the early references to malting technology (especially the drying process), which is pretty interesting when one considers that many cultures took different routes to make beer from malted barley. Daniels and Larson take us from the earliest days of brewing to the modern times, when innovations in drying malt removed the smokiness from the product in most cases.
Whether it’s a traditional or a modern application, an interesting and delicious vanguard of smoked beers can be found. Chapters 2 and 3, “Classic Producers of Smoke-Flavored Beers” and “Smoke Around the World,” respectively, examine German rauchbiers, English and Scottish interpretations, and nouveau North American versions in exquisite detail. The authors cover the modern producers and their slant on the craft. Brewer’s specifications, tasting descriptions, and brewery locations are given, great reading for anyone searching for smoked beer.
The next two chapters, “The Chemistry of Smoke” and “Smoking Malt,” have some fairly technical stuff in them, but if you are looking to make your own smoked beer, this information is invaluable. The authors outline the characteristics of the materials routinely used to smoke malt, and the equipment and techniques required to carry it out. They note the caveats involved, also, emphasizing the difficulty of fabricating beer-friendly smoked malt.
This brings us to the recipe chapter. Most dedicated beer hunters have no doubt sampled a rauchbier or something similar, but the “Brewing Smoked Beers” chapter has a few surprises. Formulations and descriptions for specialties are included with specs for more traditional smoked beers. There are recipes for a smoked Munich-style dunkel, smoked black lager, and weizenbier made with rauchmalz (smoked German malt), among others. English ales are represented with a mild, a porter, and Daniels’s own award-winning Old Ale. Not only are the specific recipe components valuable, but they are usable as reference points for brewing any style of beer with a smoky character without making it taste like an ashtray. How about a smoked pilsner or doppelbock? Just do it!
The book’s four appendices provide several recipes for cooking with smoked beers, a list of breweries that make smoked beers, some suppliers of wood for smoking, and a useful unit conversion chart. The directory of smoked beers produced in North America is impressive in both variety and numbers.
This is a great book that explores some uncharted territory in a world that has seemingly been trampled to death in the past decade or so. Rich with information and splendid writing, it will certainly open some new doors that are worthy of exploration for both home brewers and craft brewers.