Smoke beers, more distinctly known as rauchbiers (“rauch” is German for smoke and you can figure out what “bier” means in German), may not be for everyone, but everyone who loves them really, really loves them. You can call them an acquired taste, but the funny thing about beer is that smoke character in beer is something we—societally—have unacquired. It is postulated that all beers made before kiln-dried malts came into fashion in the 19th century were smoky by virtue of the barley malts being dried over the only known heating source pre-electricity: open fire.
While, admittedly, the style’s detractors feel like the beer tastes like an ashtray, its fanatics cherish how much it tastes like liquid bacon. Mmmm, bacon.
Diff’rent Smokes Rauchbier Fest
Not only does the throwback style survive as the BBQ equivalent of beer, from traditional rauchbier lagers to smoked porters and other ales, but ask your local brewer and odds are outstanding he or she is a superfan. It’s not that I’ve polled the tens of thousands of brewers out there, but the tens of thousands that I invited to participate in my upcoming beerfest, Diff’rent Smokes, enthusiastically supported the idea.
The November 13th event at Silver Moon Brewing in Bend, Oregon—featuring Boneyard, Portland’s Von Ebert and the only keg from Denver lager authorities Bierstadt—will have a veritable parade of refreshers so smoky, it’ll make the Bandit, the Bear, and Cheech & Chong #JealousAsSmokedHelles. (Incidentally, that’s a line I borrowed from my own blog about my love of smoke beers posted 12 ½ years ago.)
If that seems like a long time to love smoke beer, keep in mind the best known brewery devoted to rauchbiers is Schlenkerla, based in Bamberg (the city synonymous with the style!), established in 1405. The Upper Franconian city in Germany is the tippy-top of my beer-travel wish list. Fortunately, I secured a keg of their highly decorated Märzen (it’s been awarded over a dozen gold medals in global beer competitions) for Diff’rent Smokes.
Traditional German brewers use beechwood to smoke their Bamberger malt. Here in the US, you’re just as likely to find malts smoked using alderwood, oak, hickory, cherry, peach, or pecan wood. The former is the secret behind Alaskan Brewery’s coveted Smoked Porter, with 20 Great American Beer Fest medals to its credit making it the most medal-winning beer in GABF’s 35 year history of the competition.
Rauchbier lovers aren’t just found worldwide, they’re found on the world wide web. There’s a secret Facebook, er, Meta, group called This Week in Rauchbier. It’s got 1,117 members as of press time. It was co-founded by veteran beer author and journo John Holl. Reached via the web, Holl says, “This Week in Rauchbier was born out of a conversation on (my) “Drink Beer, Think Beer” podcast. We had been discussing the robustness and composition of the style and went down such a rabbit hole on the process that we figured there must be other rauchbier enthusiasts out there. The group is filled with beer drinkers who are excited to talk about smoked beers, the process, and the ingredients. It’s not really a private group, but rather a meeting place for anyone interested in talking about rauchbier.”
In fact, lest ye think it’s such a tiny microcosm of the beer drinking population that enjoys these beers that capture bonfires in a mug, there are actually two such groups, the other being Rauchbier Revivalists.
There’s another reason to attend Diff’rent Smokes. After yet another devastating fire season it’s a celebration of the end of this year’s extreme wildfires, and, more importantly, a benefit for the Oregon Volunteer Firefighters Assoc., established in 1957, to train volunteers.
List of Rauchbiers Being Poured at the 2021 Diff’rent Smokes Rauchbier Fest
All in all there’ll be over 20 fumy delights including cocktails featuring smoky or peaty spirits such as Islay Scotch or Mezcal plus some new, smoke-imbued dishes from The Office, the food truck pod at host Silver Moon.
The Mostly-Central Oregon Lineup
Ale Apothecary’s Immortality & Unity, wild peach ale aged in Laphroaog barrels
Bend Brewing’s Smoked Porter
Bierstadt’s All the Hype from Denver, collaboratively brewed with Green Bench from Florida
Boneyard’s Chipotle Mexican Lager aged on smoked chilies
Boss Rambler’s Mezcaloma, Mexican lager with grapefruit aged on smoky Mezcal oak
Cascade Lakes’ The Bandit (get it? It’s Smokey) plus an experimental smoked rice lager
Crux’s Smoked Grapefruit Punch, built on a rare smoked German sour ale called Lichtenhainer
McMenamins Old St. Francis’s Bamberg Obsession rauchbier
Santiam’s Potzdorf representing Salem, OR
Schlenkerla’s O.G. Märzen
Spider City’s Cherrywood Smoked Ale
Steeplejack’s Amelia Grodziskie representing Portland with this rare, smoky Polish wheat beer
Threshold’s The Cruise, also representing Portland, and also pouring a rare Grodziskie
Tiger Town’s Willie the Wild One smoked Porter from Mitchell, OR, pop.142
Von Ebert’s Rauch Helles for a Portland trifecta
10 Barrel’s Bada Bing Bada Boom, a smoked Helles with blackberries
1188 Brewing’s Tattiebogle, smoked Scottish Wee Heavy from John Day, OR.
The Diff’rent Smokes 2021 Rauchbier Fest Details
What: Diff’rent Smokes Rauchbier Fest
When: Saturday, November 13 from 2 to 8 p.m.
Where: Silver Moon Brewing (24 Greenwood Ave., Bend)
Tickets available online at https://bendticket.boldtypetickets.com/events/114461690/diff-rent-smokes-smoked-beers-cocktails for $20, or $25 at the gate.
Brian Yaeger Craft Beer Treasure Contributor
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