Smokey the Beer
1 draught pint, $3.75, 5.9% ABV
Purchased at Cambridge House Brew Pub
My experience with smoked beers totals all of one. And I absolutely hated it. It was Victory’s Otto Ale and despite Victory’s excellent reputation, I was comfortable giving it an F. I sort of have a thing against fake flavors in beer which is why I also gave (local) Hooker an F for their Watermelon Ale and their overly spiced Nor’Easter Winter. And while I’m on the Hate Train, I might as well divulge that I don’t very much like any pumpkin or fruity or spicy beers either. And while I think oakey chardonnays are the devil’s work. I’ve found that oaked beers, when done well, are excellent. Now you know.
And so, it was wild mild trepidation I placed my order for the cutely named Smokey The Beer. Was I going to have to dump it in the CBH urinal when no one was looking? (Full disclosure: I used to do that once in a while in college to try to remain sober while still looking “cool.” Hey, I was young.)
I prepared my tastebuds and probably squinted in angry anticipation for that liquid smoke bomb I had come to expect from the Otto Ale. Then something funny happened – I barely tasted smoke at all. Another sip; still no smoke. This merely tasted like a well done Octoberfest with a tiny bit of smoke in the background.
Cambridge House says:
Marzen style rauchbier, 5.9%, sweet with smoky notes.
I liked it way more than I thought I would. But now as I write this I’m stuck on something. How do you spell “smoky?” I know Smokey the Bear is “Smokey.” But the Great Smoky Mountains are “Smoky.” (And I can confirm that “smoky” is the preferred spelling of smoky, but just look at that word for a few seconds. There’s something weird about it. Smoky, smoky, smoky.
Also, I just looked up what a rauchbier is. Unsurprisingly, it’s a type of beer with a distinctive smoke flavor imparted by using malted barley dried over an open flame. The rauchbiers of Bamberg in Germany, Schlenkerla in particular, are the best-known of the smoked beers.
From the Wiki World:
Drying malt over an open flame may impart a smoky character to the malt. This character may carry over to beers brewed with the smoked malt. Prior to the modern era, drying malted barley in direct sunlight was used in addition to drying over flames. Even though kiln drying of malt, using indirect heat, did not enter into widespread usage until the industrial era, the method was known as early as the first century BC. Also, there have been various methods over the years of preparing cereal grains for brewing, including making beer from bread, so smoked beer was not universal.
Beginning in the 18th century, kiln drying of malt became progressively more common and, by the mid-19th century, had become the near-universal method for drying malted grain. Since the kiln method shunts the smoke away from the wet malt, a smoky flavor is not imparted to the grain, nor to the subsequent beer. As a result, smoke flavor in beer became less and less common, and eventually disappeared almost entirely from the brewing world.
And I was about to say “Good riddance” after the Victory beer, but if brewers keep the smoke subtle (and really, who but the Germans are imparting the smoke flavor the original way these days?), then I can buy into it.
Overall Rating: B-
Rating vs. Similar style:A+ (limited exposure)