The Fear. We all have it; we all get it - something, often nondescript, that just sets our arm-hairs on edge. Spiders. Fox News. Grant Holt. Yes, they all rank up there, but for me, Smoked Beer was the daddy.
When 2011 came to be, I decided that this was all utter nonsense - some beers I'm capable of just not getting, of course, but there's all the signs were that I should love Smoked Beer. I love smoke; mostly on meat, or cheese - and especially fish - I'll take it, please. There's something about the depth of flavour that smoke adds that has always appealed. So I bit the bullet: bought one of the big daddies -Schlenkerla Rauchbier - and got stuck in.
Ok, I cheated. I bought it to use in a recipe, some Smoked Pulled Pork, but I couldn't let it pass me by. My palate has changed since that ill-fated day circa 2005 when I tried a swig of a friend's pint and declared it 'tasted like bacon.' So I used the beer in the recipe, and drank the other half of it whilst cooking. Guess what? I liked it. Really, I did.
Schlenkerla Rauchbier (5.1%abv) has got a whole lot more going on that that lovely, familiar Gothic label. It pours a lush, deep amber with a majestic Tan-hued head. Obviously the nose is powerful - layers upon layers of woodsmoke; underpinned by a sweet-oak sort of note that gives you a clue as to what the body of the beer will taste like. The beer itself is as sweet a Marzen as you're likely to taste, but flipped round so that heavy smokiness sits under the grain, rather than on top of it. For a 5.1% abv beer it drinks nowhere near, and I have to say I enjoyed it a great deal. I've drunk a couple more since, and I can't beleive I've let it go so long ruled by past prejudices.
Of course, this led me to trying to get my hands on more Smoked Beers. Bierbrouwerij Grand-Café Emelisse Rauchbier is a whole different beast to Schlenkerla. Where Schlenkerla is muscled and powerful, Emelisse Rauch is sinewy and lean. At 6.5%abv it's stronger, yet again hides that abv below loads of flavour. That familiar, sweet smoke is there on the nose, but this time there's a hint of wildness, of almost sour malt. The taste is again unexpectedly light, and with an unusual int of pine on the finish. There's a slight echo of Goudenband in the Flemish, rangy sourness that runs through the beer, but the smokiness really works and you end with an interesting beer.
I really wish I'd not been so slavishly following my previous prejudices all these years. Palates evolve, and if I have one moral to this story it's this; try everything. Again and again and again and again and...
You can see my recipe for Bamberg Pulled Pork over at Beer Reviews, curated as always by Andy Mogg. He may support a godawful football team, but he's one of the good guys and does some great things with food and beer. My recipe didn't win, but the one that did made mine look like Neanderthal fumblings; so it's all good. Please do hop on over there, forthwith.