December 12, 2009

Beer Planet Travelog: Bamberg

Bamberg, Germany is a UNESCO World Heritage site, full of medieval buildings that survived WWII. Walking its streets and squares makes you feel like you've stepped back in time. History is great and all, but on my trans-Bavarian beer trek I was more interested in its nine breweries, all within walking distance (or stumbling distance).

All of the famous and not-so-famous beer styles of Bavaria can be found and enjoyed here, but Bamberg's claim to fame is its Rauchbier. Brewed with beechwood-smoked malt, Rauchbier has a smoky aroma and flavor that used to be ubiquitous in beer before cleaner-tasting methods to dry malt were developed. Fittingly preserved in this old city, the Rauchbiers of modern Bamberg are beautifully malty with a smoke profile that can range from subtle to clobbering. The usual base style is a dark lager, but the smoky character also finds its way into helles, bock, and hefeweizen.

Brewing Bamberg-style Rauchbier at home has been a way to recapture the sights and sounds of the trip through smell and taste. Weyermann Malz is located in Bamberg and makes a beechwood-smoked Rauchmalt that is used by many of the breweries in town, so authenticity is within our reach, citizens!

This recipe will yield a dark-amber lager with a fairly mild smoke profile, along the lines of Brauerei Spezial, which you can find in bottles here in the US. Fans - such as I, but not my wife - of the more intense Aecht Schlenkerla can start with the same base recipe but up the proportion of Rauchmalt – up to 100% of the grist if you're so inclined.

One caveat – don't try this with peat-smoked malt! It's good stuff in porters, but it won't give you the same bacon-and-woodfire character in lagers like these.

Package bright or turbid (and call it a Kellerbier), serve by the half liter or liter - you won't taste the smoke at all after a liter, as the locals say.

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