Monday, July 1, 2013

India's First Rauchbier

Also known as smoked beer, is now on-tap at Windmills Craftworks. The inspiration for this beer comes from Bamberg Germany, which just happens to be the home of my primary malt supplier, Weyermann. It's a copper coloured brew made with seven different kinds of malt. Most notably 29% Rauchmalz (malt that is kiln-smoked with beechwood). It's smooth, malty and of course quite smokey. It won't be everyones "cup of tea" but I think it's important to introduce some lesser known beer styles to India.

The most famous and highly regarded Rauchbiers unsurprisingly still come from Bamberg. This interesting city of 70,000 has eleven breweries and a city center that has been desiginated a UNESCO World Hertiage Site. The Schlenkerla and Spezial brauereis there both make excellent examples of the style and are some of the last breweries in Germany that still malt their own grain. Schlenkerla, which officially goes by the name Heller-Bräu Trum KG is also the only producer of the style that makes a beer with 100% smoked malt. 

The old town hall

While the Hofbräuhaus in Munich is probably the number one brewery pub destination for beer pilgrims visiting Germany, the Brauausschank Schlenkerla has to be number two. This venerable public beer hall has a long history. It was formerly a brewpub in medieval times known as Zum Blauen Löwen (At the Blue Lion). This can be dated by a document from the period so it's reasonable to assume that some kind of smoked beer has been brewed at this location for at least five centuries!

The brewhouse or sudhaus at Schlenkerla

The Christian Merz Brauerei, makers of Spezial can lay claim to being the oldest in town. It was founded in 1536. They use about 70% rauchmalt from their own maltings in their beers which include lager, weizen, märzen, bock and ungespundet (unfiltered lager that has had the bung removed from it's keg).

Two hundred some odd years ago, before malt kilns were heated with cleaner burning fuel, wood was often used to arrest the malting process and dry the barley that was destined for breweries. That malt and the beers produced from it would have typically had a distinct smokiness from the burning wood, much the same as when todays brewers use a decent percentage of Rauchmalz in their mash. This makes Rauchbier something of a throw-back to a by-gone era. A time capsule beer. It's interesting that these strong flavours remained popular over the centuries and that the brewers of Bamberg kept this beer style alive. Most Rauchbiers are brewed with a bit more hops than the average Bavarian brew to counterbalance the smokiness and mine is no exception, despite that the 2013 Brewers Association Beer Style Guidelines says "Hop bitterness is low and hop flavor/aroma are absent". They also say that the original gravity should range from "11.8º-14º plato" and the alcohol "4.9-5.5% by volume". The Beer Style Guidelines are updated yearly by the B.A. with input from beer judges and this one is probably due because it mostly represents a Rauchweizen and omits the Märzen and Bock variants. My version clocks in at 5% alcohol and 15.3º plato, which is slightly high for the style but makes the beer extra flavourful. In Germany these beers are fermented with either a lager yeast or a weizen strain, but me being American allows for some "liberties" to be taken so I fermented with an ale strain, albeit at a slightly lower temperature to reduce fruitiness. So my version of the beer intentionally lacks the phenol character that weizen yeast produces and is more like a smoked Märzen/Oktoberfest Alt. It's also much more inline with the BJCP beer style guideline. For those wanting to read more about these special beers and the region I recommend the Franconia Beer Guide. It's an is an excellent resource, especially if going to Bamberg with a little imbibing in mind. Prost...

With one of these smokers a creative craftbrewer could produce their own rauchmalt 

Other Craftworks Beer News
  • A new batch of Stout went on-tap last week. I tried a different yeast strain in this one and added a bit of brown malt for complexity. It's a little drier and more drinkable than previous batches.
  • To be the first to find out when new beers go on-tap, follow BangaBrew on Twitter.

Beery Factoids
  • Alt or Altbier (old beer) is a style of top-fermenting German Ale from Düsseldorf. 
  • The most popular strain of malting barley in England is Maris Otter. It was developed in the 1960's at the Plant Breeding Institute in Trumpington on a street called Maris Lane. 
  • A quick way for brewers to determine the alcohol content of their beer is to measure the starting gravity (sugar level) before fermentation in degrees plato, subtract the final gravity (in plato) after fermentation and multiply that figure by .4167. You will then have a good idea of how much alcohol is present by weight. Multiply the alcohol by weight by 1.25 to get alcohol by volume.
  • The 1970 album John Barleycorn Must Die by the band Traffic refers to an old British folk song (printed versions go back to the 16th century) where a barley crop is assigned human characteristics and brutally treated. The abusers plough him into the ground, he rises up and becomes strong, only to be hacked down, soaked in water, spread on the floor to dry and ground to bits. But John Barleycorn is a great survivor and his blood, when consumed soothes the soul and is a great comfort to the working man.