Tasting Through the Schlenkerla Smokebeers

by Billy Broas

Aecht SchlenkerlaAs I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’m headed to Munich in May.

Part of my brutal training regimen is drinking a ton of German beer. We’re planning on spending one or two days of the trip in Bamberg, which is about 140 miles north of Munich. It’s home to the Rauchbier style of beer, or “smoke beer”. No liquid smoke in these though. This is the reaaaal deal. They produced it via the authentic practice of smoking the malt during the kilning process.

Schlenkerla is the most famous Rauchbier producer. They are widely distributed in the U.S. and if you haven’t tasted it, you likely recognize the label.

I had Chris and Jeremy from Pintwell over to help me out in a group that we are morphing from our BJCP study group into what we’re calling The Denver Tasting Lab. We tried five of the Schlenkerla beers:

  1. Urbock
  2. Marzen
  3. Weizen
  4. Doppelbock
  5. Lager
Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Tasting

Schlenkerla Tasting: Urbock, Marzen, Weizen, Doppelbock, Lager

Putting the rauchbiers head to head

Putting the rauchbiers head to head


My favorites were the lager and the weizen, with the lager edging out the weizen if you force me into choosing. I think the reason I prefer these two is that they offered the most non-smokey characteristics.

Not that the smoke flavor was bad. On the contrary, I loved it and how rich and natural it was. It’s just that I felt the lager and weizen had more complexity and were less one-dimensional than the others. The lager was especially impressive in how subtle the smoke was but also how critical it was to the overall flavor profile of the beer. It’s truly masterfully crafted.

Credit has to be given to the Marzen which I would call the granddaddy of them all. It’s the most intense and left me with a severe craving for bacon.

Here are some thoughts from Chris and Jeremy:

“The thing that sticks out in my mind is that most of these beers had a very pleasant, natural, but not overpowering smoke aroma, unlike some domestic versions which contain the artificial stuff or which overwhelm such that each one feels like smoking a pack of cigarettes. Also, any one of them would be great to pair with a nice grilled meal.”
- Chris

“The thing that sticks out for me is the flavor of bacon in the marzen. There have been a few breweries to attempt a bacon beer, but this one does it naturally and without trying. I love it when a beer is able to bring flavors to life without being over-the-top.”
- Jeremy

This was an incredibly fun tasting and I highly recommend you try it out. A word of warning though: if you do this tasting, save these beers for LAST. The aroma filled the room and I was tasting smoke in my mouth the next morning.

Have you tried the Schlenkerla beers? Which ones?

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Jack April 12, 2013 at 10:32 am

This post is making me drool, Billy. I pick up their Marzen fairly regularly – I love the overwhelming smoke character. That’s the only one of their offerings I’ve been able to find locally (Western PA) until a couple weeks ago when I found the Urbock at a bottle shop. I haven’t opened it yet, though.

Smoked beer tends to be a love it or hate it thing, and I’m on the love it side of the fence. For instance, I brewed a classic Rauchbier (see: http://www.whenyeastattack.com/2013/01/12/tasting-notes-classic-rauchbier-beer-46/) using nothing but Weyermann Rauchmalz for the base (~75% of the grist bill). Nearly everyone thinks it’s a little too smokey; I think it’s not smokey enough!

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Billy Broas April 16, 2013 at 6:16 pm

Hey Jack, happy to whet your appetite. Smoked beers are really love hate, even within smoked beers! I obviously prefer a more restrained smokiness whereas some like yourself want to be hit over the head with it ; )

We’ll see how these bottles compares to drinking it fresh at the brewery. I’ll let you know if you need to hop on a plane.

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Caleb April 12, 2013 at 8:17 pm

Read this post today, and since the deal with my wife is whenever we visit her family in Cincinnati, I get beer, this was my first choice. I also went with Nugget Nectar (for the first time, since it was last week’s Beer Bucket beer), and Orval. I haven’t had Orval for awhile, and the Beer Wench’s last post praised that, so I was craving. All in all, I’m excited for the weekend. Thanks for your contributoon’

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Caleb April 12, 2013 at 9:01 pm

*contribution!

Drinking it now, I love it. Don’t have much experience with smokebeers, so I’m glad this is a great first impression. Your reviews are pretty spot on. Prost!

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Billy Broas April 16, 2013 at 6:17 pm

Glad you like the smoke! Also cool you’re going through the bucket list. Nugget Nectar is still one of my favorites. Same with Orval.

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Brian April 21, 2013 at 10:39 pm

I’ve had the dopplebock and the urbock, with the former being my favorite of the two. I’d like to try more of them, especially the weizen and helles. Looks like a great tasting you had — prost!

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Billy Broas April 22, 2013 at 9:10 am

Let me know if you try those two and thanks for checking out the post. Since the doppelbock is the strongest I am aging one of those to see how it evolves. Should be interesting. Prost!

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Mark Young April 23, 2013 at 12:00 am

Cool you’re going to the motherland! I’m 95% or so German, and go over there every 2-3 yrs, but have NEVER done any brew-oriented travel; I hope to get some ideas from you. So cool how every medium or so? sized town has their own braurei & takes pride in their local bier. I never heard of Berliner Weisse, and didn’t know that anyone norther of Frankfurt ever drank hefeweizen/krystalweizen. Hefe/dunkelweizens are my fave, w/ IPAs a close second.

I look forward to hearing about your adventures. Perhaps you’ve been there before, but if not, let me know if you need any travel tips. Though your smart phone probably won’t make regular calls there (unless it’s unlocked/not ATT or VERIZON locked & you buy sim cards there for it), BUT you CAN use SKYPE & other apps to make calls whenever you have wifi (“Vee-Fee” as they say), at any Starbucks….

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Billy Broas April 23, 2013 at 9:03 pm

I’ll make sure to keep you posted Mark. Hopefully I can’t find a Berliner Weisse in Bavaria but I kind of doubt it. I’ve got no problem making a followup trip through to sample some of the other great beers Germany has to offer in other areas.

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