Friday, 3 April 2009

Smoking Virgins

I'm a fan of Rauchbier and I have written before about my thoughts on Schlenkerla vs. Spezial on both the Maerzen and Lagerbier front as well as the rather uniquely intense peat-smoked Smokey George. For this months Session, hosted by Lew Bryson, I considered doing a blind tasting, at risk of repeating myself. However, as it appeared that my volunteers this time were mostly Rauchbier virgins, I decided to go easy and just do a serial tasting to bring them gently into the world of smoke. Most of all, I was hoping for shock and hopefully a little delight!

Although I live in Germany, I do seem to have to order it on-line to get a reasonable selection, and what better place than Fränkische Bierkultur. Almost directly from the source! As good as I can get before going to Bamberg itself. Some day...

The five Rauchbiers, and the order I set the tasting, went like this:
  • Spezial Weissbier
  • Schlenkerla Rauchbier - Weissbier
  • Spezial Rauchbier - Lagerbier
  • Weiherer Rauch
  • Schlenkerla Rauchbier - Märzen
Before I get to the results, ably assisted by TheBeerNut as the maths was getting to complex for my little brain, let's have a summary of the comments from the Versuchskaninchen:

Spezial Weissbier
"Not a Weissbier I would buy"
"Nothing special, tastes much like normal Weissbier"
"Watery" mentioned four times!
"Not smokey. Not good at all" This from Markus who already decided he didn't like rauchbier weeks before we began :)

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier - Weissbier
"I don't like it"
"Special, not bad. I don't think you could drink it too often."
"Smells more intense than it tastes, however quite typical for a Weissbier. I would prefer it to the previous one"

Spezial Rauchbier - Lagerbier
"Refreshing, maybe a bit too sweet. Prefer it to the Weissbiers."
"No smoke, no character."
"I don't like it."
"Not too good. I wouldn't buy it."

Weiherer Rauch
"Refreshing due to it's "herb" and slight bitterness. Definitely better than the previous three."
"Ok, still a bit too smokey."
"Tastes better the more you drink."
"One dimensional."
"Gut, süffig."

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen
"The aroma is like Talisker whiskey. It's hoppy, slightly bitter and malty, very interesting."
"I don't like it at all. Give me more pale ale!"

I asked people to rank these beers in order of preference (and I have excluded myself from this round). The results are by no means conclusive at first glance, and using simple mean scores the Schlenkerla Weissbier, Spezial Lagerbier and Weiherer Rauch all drew the same score, the Schlenkerla Märzen came next and the Spezial Weissbier came last. However, I had a secret weapon in the form of TheBeerNut who recently finished the claculations for the Irish Craft Brewer Beer of the Year. As TBN has experience with proportional representation, he kindly took the raw votes and put them through the election machine. The final tally, in order of preference, looks like this:
  • Spezial Rauchbier - Lagerbier
  • Weiherer Rauch
  • Schlenkerla Rauchbier - Weissbier
  • Schlenkerla Rauchbier - Märzen
  • Spezial Weissbier
Clearly the more heavily smoked ones were dropping down the table, but the Spezial Weissbier fared worst of all. From my own perspective, the two Weissbiers and the Weiherer were new, so here's what I thought of them.

The Spezial Weissbier gave of almost classic weissbier aromas, cloves and a suble banana undertone. No real smoke evident. There was a little smoke in the flavour though, coming across in a more woody kind of flavour, and with a slight lemon hint. Thin, and not much smoke meant that this wasn't all that impressive to me.

The Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier - Weissbier was a dirty brown with a real hammy aroma. In fact, it was hard to detect that there was a weissbier under all that smoked ham. I liked this. It's certainly the real deal when it comes to the bacon-fan smokiness and with an underlying toffee effect. It's spritzy, but still has a reasonably satisfying body . An interesting beer

Finally, the Weiherer Rauch, a clear, dark gold beer that to my mind was very much in the mould of a Helles, with bready malt undertones, but with a slight fruitiness and a lingering, gentle, sweet smoke down the throat. Certainly not challenging in the smoke department, almost passing for a regular beer, but a decent thirst quencher.

So there you have it. My colleagues are not really smoke fans
, although there are a few potential acolytes of the smoke. I'll keep working on it...

Following the tasting, which went surprisingly fast, we all headed to the harbour area of Münster for a beer and a bite to eat. Last beer of the day, a huge glass of Frankenheim Alt. Not my favourite alt, but look at the size of it! Hi Rafael!

Many thanks to Markus R, Markus W, Richard, Matthias, Henning, Ingo, Christian S. Christian H., Rafael and Daniel for braving the smoke, and TheBeerNut for adding an officialdom to the final results, thereby letting me have a good nights sleep tonight.

I'm actually just back from Brussels, and didn't get the time to go beer shopping today, so as Lew demanded, I'm about to open a Rauchbier. The Schlenkerla Weissbier. Prost!


The Beer Nut said...

So, what you're saying is when your job isn't sending you to California or Belgium, you all sit in the staff canteen drinking beer, before going out for pints. Tough billet.

Barry M said...

You forgot Luxembourg. I wish I could...

But yes, the Feierabend Bier is a bit of a sub-culture in the office. It's a hard life. :D

Actually, the past three weeks have been a bit over the top travel-wise. It's definitely not always like that.

On an aside, I found out today we didn't win the contract in Denmark. I'm gutted :(

Dean said...

Looks like it was a fun night. Love the post title. I'm not sure that I could tackle so many smokeys for one session...I'm sure there must be a health warning somewhere for this purpose :-)

Mark Dredge said...

I like these tasting nights relating to the session, you get to compare a load of different beers of a similar style. I agree with Dean though, I'd be all smoked out after that one!!

Barry M said...

It was good fun, although a little short. The Spezials and the Weiherer are fairly delicately smoked, to my taste at least, but the Schlenkerla are real smoke powerhouses. Overall, it didn't seem like too much smoke, except to one or two individuals :D

The guys were asking if I'd do a tasting each month. Will have to think what comes next :)

Russ said...

For those who find the Schlenkerla Märzen overpowering, I recommend either the Fastenbier or the Urbock. The Urbock kicks up the malt to balance the smokiness, while the Fastenbier reduces the Rauchmalz. I have no idea what the availability of either beer is in Germany (the Urbock is available year-round in the States while the Fastenbier is--as you might guess--only available during Lent), but I prefer either to the Märzen.