Blame it on the body’s urge to consume more calories in the colder months, or maybe we just don’t want to drink something that’s chilled. Whatever the reason, in the winter, strong, dark ales, porters, and the like taste better than refreshing, icy lagers. Our favorite recent discovery is smoked beer—a style of brown ales, porters, and stouts that are infused with the flavor of smoke, and lovely to drink next to a roaring fire.
The style, made by smoking sprouted barley (malt) before brewing, dates back to 16th-century Germany, where it’s known as rauchbier (German for “smoke beer”) if it’s smoked with wood, or steinbier if it’s smoked by dropping extremely hot stones into the beer during the brewing process. Many of the traditional German versions overwhelm your nasal passages with smoke and taste as if you’re sucking down a glass of liquid bacon. (Not a bad thing, in our opinion.) Recent offerings from American brewers are subtler. Here are our top picks, in order of smokiness.
- Schlenkerla Rauchbier: This German beer is malty, toasty, and rich, with a dry finish.
- Short’s Smoked Apple Ale: Made in Bellaire, Michigan, this ale is fermented with the addition of apples that have been smoked with applewood. Its almost overpoweringly smoky aroma is like that of meat being grilled over a campfire; its flavors include apple and bacon. It’s like barbeque sauce in a beer bottle.
- Alaskan Smoked Porter: The Alaskan Brewing Co., based in Juneau, was one of the first American breweries to begin making rauchbier, in 1988. The malt in this ale is “cold-smoked” over alderwood, meaning that it is slowly smoked at low temperatures (topping out at 100°F). The result is an award-winning beer with hints of raisin, coffee, and chocolate.
- Rogue Smoke Ale: Created to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall, this amber-colored ale from venerable Rogue Brewery, in Newport, Oregon, is smoked over alderwood. It has notes of espresso, caramel, apricots, and, of course, wood smoke.
- Stone Smoked Porter: Malt is peat-smoked in this porter from the Stone Brewing Co., based in Escondido, California, and delivers only the suggestion of smoke. It’s more like a traditional-but-tasty porter with flavors of coffee, chocolate, and toasty malt.