Smoke Beer

Smoke Beer: A Comprehensive Guide to Its Unique Flavor and Brewing Process

Smoke beer, also known as Rauchbier, is a unique type of beer that incorporates a smoky flavor derived from malted barley dried over an open flame. This distinct method of drying malt allows a smoky quality to be imparted into the beer, creating a bold and memorable taste experience for beer enthusiasts.

Smoke Beer

The history of smoked beer can be traced back to Germany, where the traditional Rauchbier originated. Although many modern smoke beers are inspired by German-style Rauchbier, craft brewers in the United States and other regions have also introduced their interpretations, blending the smoky character into numerous beer styles, from lagers to porters.

Key Takeaways

  • Smoked beer is made using malted barley dried over an open flame, imparting a unique smoky flavor.
  • The style originated in Germany as Rauchbier and inspired contemporary interpretations in the United States and beyond.
  • Smoke beer enthusiasts enjoy its bold flavor, which is versatile enough to be featured in various styles, from lagers to porters.

History of Smoke Beer

Smoke beer, also known as Rauchbier in German, has a unique and rich history. The special flavor of this beer comes from the malted barley, which is dried over an open flame, imparting a distinctive smoky flavor. Before the 19th century and the invention of modern techniques like the drum kiln, maltsters would dry grains by lighting wood or coal fires beneath them, a process that inevitably led to the creation of smoked beer.

The city of Bamberg in Franconia, Germany, has a strong association with smoked beer. The city is home to various breweries producing this unique beer, with Schlenkerla being one of the most famous establishments. Legends suggest that the smoky flavor of Bamberg’s renowned beer might have been an accidental discovery following a fire in one of the breweries where the smoke penetrated the malt.

On July 23, 1635, the first smoke-free malt drying machine was patented, leading to a decrease in the production and popularity of smoke beers. Smoke-free beer eventually dominated the global market, while the original smoked beer became a rare and specialized offering, mainly found in parts of Germany.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in smoked beer, particularly within the craft beer community. Many breweries are now experimenting with smoked malts, creating new and unique flavor profiles that pay homage to the rich history of this beer style.

Smoke Beer Process

Smoke beer, also known as rauchbier, is a unique style of beer that incorporates the flavors and aromas of smoke. The process of smoking beer involves using smoked malted barley to provide a distinctive taste and aroma to the final product. This type of beer has a rich history dating back centuries when malted barley was dried over open flames. This process is responsible for creating an unmistakable smoky flavor profile.

To achieve the desired smokiness, brewers use different varieties of wood for drying or “smoking” the malted barley. One common wood used is beechwood, which imparts a subtle, yet distinct flavor to the beer. The choice of wood can greatly influence the intensity and character of the smoke in the finished beer, according to individual preferences.

During the brewing process, smoked malts are combined with other grains to create a balanced flavor while still highlighting the smoky characteristics. The amount and type of smoked malts used will ultimately determine the intensity of the smoked flavor in the beer. Some breweries may opt for a more subtle smoke presence, while others may want an intense smoky flavor that dominates the overall experience.

In addition to the smoked malt, other factors such as the type of hops, yeast, and water used in the brewing process can also play a role in the overall flavor profile of a smoke beer. The combination of these elements can help create a complex and intriguing taste that appeals to those who enjoy adventurous beer styles.

As you can see, the process of creating a smoke beer is both an art and science. The use of smoked malted barley, careful selection of wood, and the right balance of additional ingredients come together to create a truly unique and enjoyable beer experience.

Popular Smoke Beer Styles


Rauchbier is a traditional German smoked beer, originating from Bamberg. The unique flavor profile is achieved by using malted barley that has been smoked over beechwood, giving the beer its distinctive smoky character. Rauchbiers typically have an ABV of 4.5%-7.0% and an IBU of 20-30, making them a balanced and enjoyable drink. This style is a great representation of the smoke beer category and a must-try for those interested in exploring the world of smoked beers.

Smoked IPA

Smoked IPAs combine the hoppiness of a traditional IPA with the smoky flavors of smoke beer. These beers offer a unique contrast between the assertive hop bitterness and the rich, smoky malt character. Smoked IPAs showcase innovation in the craft beer world, as brewers experiment with new flavor combinations while keeping true to the IPA style that many beer enthusiasts love.

Smoked Lager

Smoked lagers incorporate the use of smoked malts into the classic lager brewing process. This style provides a smooth, crisp finish that is synonymous with lagers, while also offering the intriguing smoky flavors from the smoked malt. Smoked lagers often have a moderate smoke intensity that complements their refreshing and easy-drinking nature.

Smoked Porter

This style combines the dark, roasted flavors of porters with the rich, smoky character of smoke beer. Smoked porters offer a more robust and full-bodied experience than other smoke beer styles, thanks to the presence of chocolate and coffee notes from the roasted malts. These beers are perfect for those who enjoy complex and bold flavors in their craft beers.

Smoked Stout

Smoked stouts take the deep, rich flavors of traditional stouts and add an extra layer of smokiness. These beers showcase a strong, assertive smoke presence, along with the roasted malt characteristics of chocolate, coffee, and caramel. Smoked stouts are an excellent choice for those looking to explore the more intense side of the smoked beer spectrum.

Smoked Scotch Ale

Smoked Scotch Ales, also known as peated Scotch Ales, feature smoke flavors derived from peat-smoked malt. This style originates from Scotland and offers a distinct smoky profile compared to other smoked beers that typically use beechwood or cherrywood. The combination of rich, caramel maltiness inherent in Scotch Ales and the earthy, smoky flavors from the peat-smoked malts creates a unique and satisfying beer experience for those who appreciate the nuances of smoked beers.

Key Smoke Beer Producers

Schlenkerla is a historic brewery in Bamberg, Germany, that has been producing high-quality smoked beers for centuries. They use malt dried over an open flame, giving their beers a distinctive smoky flavor. Schlenkerla’s lineup includes various smoked beer styles, and one of their most popular offerings is the Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, a traditional smoked beer with a robust, savory taste reminiscent of grilled meat and roasted nuts.

Alaskan Brewing Company is another major player in the smoked beer scene, based in Juneau, Alaska. Their renowned Alaskan Smoked Porter is crafted using locally sourced alder wood to smoke the malt, resulting in a rich, smoky flavor with hints of chocolate and coffee. This unique porter has received numerous awards and is a favorite among smoke beer enthusiasts.

Anheuser-Busch, the world’s largest brewing company, has also dabbled in smoked beer production. Although they are primarily known for their mainstream beer brands such as Budweiser and Michelob, Anheuser-Busch occasionally releases limited edition smoke beers as part of their specialty beer lines. These offerings often showcase the company’s ability to fuse traditional brewing techniques with cutting-edge innovation, allowing them to cater to niche markets alongside their flagship products.

In addition to these prominent breweries, various smaller craft producers around the world are experimenting with smoked beer styles, contributing to the growing diversity and popularity of this unique category within the beer industry. Whether you prefer a traditional German Rauchbier, a robust smoked porter, or a smoky stout, there is a smoked beer option to suit every taste in today’s market.

Smoky Flavor Profiles

Smoky flavor profiles in beer can range from subtle, delicate wisps of smoke to bold, robust campfire notes. This unique taste is achieved by kilning the malt over an open flame, which imparts the smoky properties into the beer. The goal when brewing smoked beer is to reach a harmonious balance between the style’s inherent character and the smoke flavor.

One of the key components of smoky taste is the choice of wood used in the smoking process, which can result in different flavor nuances. Beechwood, for example, imparts a moderately smoky flavor that compliments styles such as Bock or Märzen (or Oktoberfest).

Besides wood, several ingredients are known to enhance or complement the smoky flavor profile in beer. These include:

  • Chocolate: Dark chocolate can help accentuate the smoky notes in the beer and add complexity to the overall taste.
  • Meats: Rich, savory flavors of smoked meats, such as bacon or smoked sausages, often pair well with smoky beer styles, bringing out the best in both elements.
  • Fish: Smoked fish, like salmon or trout, can emphasize the beer’s smoky character and add depth of flavor.
  • Smoked Paprika: This spice, made from dried and smoked peppers, can introduce an additional layer of smokiness to the beer while also adding warmth and color.
  • Toffee: The caramelized sweetness of toffee can work in tandem with the smoky flavor to create a smooth, balanced profile.
  • Coffee: The roasted, bold flavor of coffee can help enhance and support the smoky elements in a beer, adding depth and richness.

It is important to remember that the intensity of the smoky flavor profile depends on various factors, such as the type of malt used and the kilning process. This flexibility allows brewers to experiment and create unique variations of smoke beers with tailored flavor profiles that suit different palates.

Pairing Suggestions

When it comes to pairing smoked beers with food, the key is to find balance and complement the smoky flavors in both the beer and the dishes. Here are some recommendations to help you create the perfect match:

Meats: Smoked beers seamlessly blend with a variety of meats. Rich, savory dishes like barbecued ribs, pulled pork, and smoked sausages are a natural fit. The bold flavors of the meats accentuate the roasty elements in the beer, creating a harmonious pairing. You might also consider pairing smoked beers with grilled chicken or tender cuts of steak to introduce a delightful contrast to the flavors.

Fish: Pairing smoked beer with fish dishes can be a bit more delicate, but when done correctly, the combination can enhance and elevate each element. Smoked salmon is an excellent choice, as its rich, savory flavor melds well with the smoky undertones of the beer. Additionally, shellfish like oysters, mussels, and shrimp can create delightful pairings with smoked beers. The briny flavors and smoky beer notes work together to create a harmonious and satisfying experience.

When selecting the right pairing, it’s important to consider the intensity of flavors in both the dish and the beer. Lighter smoked beer varieties like a German Rauchbier or a smoked Helles lager should be paired with more delicate dishes like sushi, salads, or light pasta. This will allow the subtleties of the smoky beer to shine without overpowering the flavors of the food.

On the other hand, more robust smoked beers, such as a smoked porter or imperial stout, can hold their own against bolder dishes like spicy chili, slow-cooked brisket, or a hearty stew. These heartier pairings allow for the bold flavors of the dish and beer to complement each other without either one overpowering the other.

The key to creating a successful pairing with smoked beer is to experiment with different combinations and always consider balance and complementary flavors. By keeping these principles in mind and pairing thoughtfully, you’ll be able to create an unforgettable culinary experience that showcases the complexity and depth of smoked beers.

Smoke Beer Sales and Trends

The craft beer industry has seen a growing interest in smoked beers in recent years. Smoked beer, also known as rauchbier, has its origins in Germany. By drying the malts over an open fire and incorporating them into the brewing process, a unique smoky flavor and aroma are imparted to the beer. In the United States, smoked beers are gaining traction and finding a niche among adventurous beer enthusiasts.

Sales trends indicate that smoked beers are becoming more popular in the craft beer market. For example, the widely acclaimed Grodziskie, a 3% ABV smoked beer released in January 2018, quickly gained a foothold in Texas liquor and grocery stores, despite being a seemingly divisive flavor. This growing interest in smoked beer is not limited to a single region but is seen nationwide, as craft breweries across the country are experimenting with these styles.

In addition to the craft beer industry, domestic and import beers are also venturing into the realm of smoked brews. The 2022 Beer Market Report states that the American beer market witnessed new product releases featuring smoked flavors across various beer segments, including domestics, imports, craft, and flavored malts. This trend proves that beer drinkers are becoming more adventurous, and the demand for unique and complex flavors is on the rise.

As smoked beers continue to find their way into the market, it will be interesting to see how this trend doubles in the future. Innovative brewers are likely to push the envelope further by experimenting with various types of wood or incorporating smoked ingredients to create one-of-a-kind, smoky brews, catering to a broad range of palates. However, only time will tell whether smoked beers will remain a niche product or become a staple in the beer industry.

The Impact of Smoke Beer on Culture and the Environment

Smoke beer, also known as rauchbier, has a distinct flavor profile that reminds drinkers of grilled meat or campfires. This unique taste has made it a beloved choice among beer enthusiasts and has sparked its own niche community of smoke beer lovers. In addition, some breweries have taken steps to minimize their environmental impact. With its growing popularity, smoke beer has created both a cultural and environmental impact on the brewing world.

The cultural impact of smoke beer can be seen in the various beer festivals and events dedicated to the style. There has been a rise in appreciation for this brewing technique, which has its roots in traditional German rauchbier. As the style has gained traction, it has expanded outside of Germany and inspired new creations like St. Chuck’s Smoke, a Great American Beer Festival winner in 2018 and 2019 by Rogue Brewery in Ashland, OR.

Environmental concerns are an essential topic in modern beer brewing, and smoke beer is no exception. The brewing process consumes a large amount of water, which is used primarily in cleaning, steam production, malting, and cooling1. To combat this, some breweries have taken steps to reduce their environmental impact. Heineken, for example, is planning to make all its breweries carbon-neutral by 2030 and achieve a carbon-neutral supply chain by 20402.

In addition to water usage, beer brewing also generates waste. One way to reduce the environmental impact of beer brewing is to recycle or reuse byproducts like spent grain and hops. Experimenting with alternative ingredients, such as spent yeast, can also help make the process more sustainable3.

Smoke beer not only provides a unique taste experience, but also contributes to both the cultural and environmental impact on the brewing industry. As the popularity of this style continues to grow, it will be essential for both the beer community and the environment to remain mindful of their responsibilities in promoting sustainable production methods.

Subscribe and Connect

If you are passionate about smoked beer and want to stay updated with the latest trends, events, recipes, and products in the world of smoke beer, consider subscribing to a beer subscription club, such as the Big Smoke Beer Collective. By subscribing, you will receive a curated selection of smoked beer to your doorstep every month, allowing you to taste and explore new creations from different breweries.

To further enhance your smoked beer journey, sign up for newsletters that cater to beer enthusiasts who share your interest. Newsletters often contain articles, tips, and exclusive deals that provide valuable insights into the smoked beer world. Some of these newsletters even offer the opportunity to connect with fellow enthusiasts through discussion forums and social media groups, wherein you can exchange opinions, recommendations, and personal experiences.

Keep in mind that there are several platforms and blogs where beer experts and aficionados share their knowledge, just like Food & Wine’s list of “7 Best Beer Subscription Boxes of 2023.” By following such publications, you will stay informed about the latest news and developments in the smoked beer industry. Engaging with these resources will not only deepen your knowledge but also foster a sense of community among participants with shared interests.

Remember to follow your favorite smoked beer breweries and brands on social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, as they regularly post updates on their latest products, events, and exclusive promotions. Connecting and subscribing via these channels will enable you to get the most out of your smoked beer experience while fueling your passion for this unique beverage.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main styles of smoked beer?

Smoked beers, known as Rauchbiers in German, typically come in two primary styles: the classic Rauchbier and the Grodziskie. Rauchbiers are often dark and malty, with a pronounced smoky flavor. Grodziskie, a lighter, pale ale from Poland, is characterized by its unique wheat malt smoked over oak wood.

How is the smoking process implemented in beer production?

During production, the smoking process is implemented by drying the malt over a fire made from wood, typically beechwood or oak. This imparts a unique smoky flavor to the malt which, in turn, adds complexity to the final beer. The level of smokiness in the beer can be controlled by adjusting the intensity and duration of the malt’s exposure to the smoke.

What are some popular Rauchbiers?

Some popular Rauchbiers include Schlenkerla’s Märzen, Aecht Schlenkerla Urbock, and Spezial Lagerbier. These German breweries are widely recognized for their dedication to the tradition of smoking malt and producing exemplary smoked beers.

Are there any commercial smoked lagers available?

Yes, there are commercial smoked lagers available, such as Jack’s Abby’s Smoke & Dagger and Alaskan Smoked Porter. These beers showcase the versatility of smoked malts, which can be used in a range of beer styles beyond the traditional Rauchbier.

How can I brew my own smoked beer?

To brew your own smoked beer, you can start by choosing the desired base style for your beer. Then, replace a portion of the unsmoked malt in your recipe with the preferred smoked malt. The percentage of smoked malt will depend on the intensity of the smoky flavor you desire. Experiment with different wood-smoked malts to find the flavor profile that best suits your taste. Finally, follow the usual brewing process and enjoy the results!

What is the history behind Grodziskie and Märzen?

Grodziskie, a traditional Polish beer, dates back to the 14th century or earlier. Brewed using oak-smoked wheat malt, Grodziskie is known for its golden color, high carbonation, and unique smoky flavor. Märzen, on the other hand, is a malty, amber-colored German lager with a smoky character. The origins of Märzen can be traced back to the Bavarian Beer Purity Law of 1516, which led to a shift from brewing with smoked malts to using clean kilning methods for malt production. In response, traditional Rauchbier breweries in Bamberg, Germany, maintained the use of smoked malt as a key ingredient in their beers, preserving the unique flavor profile of smoked beers like Märzen.


  1. “Is Brewing Beer Bad for the Environment? 5 Proven Concerns.”

  2. “These 5 beer companies are taking steps to protect the planet.”

  3. “Reducing The Environmental Impact Of Beer Brewing.”

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