Centuries ago, most brewing malts were dried over fires, and many beers had a slightly burnt flavor. Refined methods of kilning (akin to roasting coffee) ended the practice, but now cutting-edge breweries, channeling the ancient rauchbiers of Bamberg, Germany, are bringing smokiness back to create complex craft beers. Here are the best six to seek out.
Stone Smoked Porter
Stone is known for its hoppy ales, but the Southern California brewery goes to the dark side with this rich, ruby-hued porter. Peat-smoked malt provides an undercurrent of char flavor that nicely pairs notes of cocoa and coffee. bevmo.com
Olvisholt Brugghis Smoked Imperial Stout
An active volcano inspired this massive Icelandic imperial stout. Barley and wheat malt make the creamy obsidian elixir as smooth as silk, while birch smoke is intertwined with bittersweet flavors of espresso and dark chocolate. klwines.com
The cultish Minnesota brewery's potent Baltic porter (a powerful style that was prominent in Scandinavia and Russia) is made with Bamberg smoked malts. Cold lager fermentation creates a soft, smooth interplay of dark fruit, understated smoke, and mellow notes of vanilla and oak. france44.com
HaandBryggeriet Norwegian Wood
In a nod to Norway's traditional farmhouse breweries, the quirky brewery relies on native juniper branches and berries to create this hearty, rustic, caramel-accented sipper, which faintly recalls a Christmas wreath tossed into a campfire. bottletrek.com
Aecht Schlenkerla Helles
For more delicate palates, Bamberg's preeminent rauchbier brewery also makes a lighter, more approachable take on its signature brew, Helles. The crisp golden lager is made without smoked malts; its wisp of smoke is supplied by the house yeast strain. halftimebeverage.com
Professor Fritz Briem Grodziskie
Prior to its extinction in the mid-1990s, the smoky, highly hopped Grodziskie was the pride of Poland. This version from Germany resurrects the recipe, combining smoldering beechwood-smoked wheat malt with a sturdy bitterness and a refreshing tartness. ultimatewineshop.com
—Joshua M. Bernstein (@JoshMBernstein) is a Brooklyn-based journalist and the author of Brewed Awakening: Behind the Beers and Brewers Leading the World's Craft Brewing Revolution.
• • •