Smoke Me a Beer, I’ll Be Back for Breakfast (OR Aecht Schlenkerla Eiche)

Smoked beer is weird stuff. Very weird.

The first time I encountered it was in North Bar. A drunk man in a hat was talking to me. He tried to make me wear his hat. And I did. Through the whole hat-related conversation I remember thinking, ‘this man STINKS of smoke’. This being post-smoking ban I could not fathom how on earth a mere mortal could reek so much of smoke. And of bacon.

He was sipping a pint of pitch black beer. He offered, nay, insisted that I try it. Now, if a man who stinks of smoke and bacon, who insists on me wearing his hat tries to make me share a drink, I think of germs, and diseases and I say no. To appease him I agreed to order my own half of this beverage he was so keen for me to try.

Strangely, the smell of smoke (and bacon) got worse as I received my half pint. I was only when I raised the glass to my mouth and the aroma from the beer hit my nosed that I realised why. The bloody beer was smoked. And bacony.

The man may have been drunk, odd, and strangely interested in me wearing hats, but he stank of neither smoke, nor beer, Well, his breath did, but that was because he was drinking Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbeir. This beer is made by the Schlenkerla brewery who smoke their malts on beech as an age old way of drying them quickly.

It’s odd stuff. Thick enough to chew upon, a powerful nose that smells of (yes) smoky bacon crisps and then a lurking sweetness deep down that tries to battle off that wicked smoke, but never quite manages it.

It is good though. Very good. A half pint was more than enough for me, mind.

I thought this chapter in my life was over until a week before Christmas I headed up to North Bar again, this time for a Leeds Guide article called Bartender’s Choice, where a local bartender picks a favourite beverage and talks about it. And, of course, let’s the writer try it. It’s a hard knock life…

So, I met Jim. He had a big beard and held in his hand a bottle with a similar, but slightly different logo to the keg that once let forth my first taste of rauchbier.

This time, it was different. This was a Christmas special. It looked like this:

This was Aecht Schlenkerla Eiche. It was bloody gorgeous. It’s main difference from the rauchbier was that the malt was smoked on oak, rather than beech, and what a difference it made. The nose still packs a smoky punch, but underneath, there’s honey, vanilla and a warming kick (as you would expect from an 8% beer).

These notes are limited, because you should read the rest here: http://www.leedsguide.co.uk/review/bartenders-choice/jim-thackray-north-bar/17614

Unfortunately, since my blog went into hibernation over winter, North have probably sold out of this now, but ask ’em next time you’re in. Just in case. Just be aware that if you get chatting to someone while you drink it, they might start wondering why you smell like crisps.

APPENDIX

An explanation of the post title can be found here:

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Festive Drinking

Things have been quiet round these parts for sometime now. Almost an entire fortnight infact. What with Christmas, traveling around the North of England to visit various friends and relatives and a general laziness that comes from having ages off work, I didn’t get round to any blogging.

I did, however, get round to some mighty fine drinking. Again, it being Christmas and all that, the drinking was largely social and often in the kind of quantities beyond normal responsible levels (especially if the people who inspired Pete Brown’s latest blog are to believed [they really shouldn’t]), means that some beers are remembered just sketchily, others very well, and none have any kind of notes to be taken with them. So I’m going to bash through December and the start of 2010 at pace. Here we go.

Christmas Eve started well. Well, it didn’t, we were meant to go up to Burnley for a party but the never ending bloody snow foiled that. Solution: a trip to North Bar. As we were preparing to order, the splendid manager there, Matt, informed me that Crown Brewery’s Django Reinhardt – a damson porter – was about to come on tap. I instantly ceased my plan to order a Stille Nacht and waited with baited breath for the recommendation. It was worth the wait, rich in fruit flavours, warming and powerful it’s a perfect winter tipple and it got me all ready to settle down infront of the telly with a DVD of Bugsy Malone.

My Christmas Beers

My Christmas Beers

Next up, inevitably, was Christmas day. Drinking-wise today was all about Bucks Fizz (a bottle of Champagne was polished off between the two of us, before lunch, naturally), loads of muy dulce sherry from Beer Ritz. This stuff, Valdivia Pedro Ximenez, is, as the tag in Beer Ritz says, “nectar of the Gods”. It’s honey and treacle and currents and pudding and all the sweet tastes of Christmas rolled into one. I did, however, break out a Chimay Bleue to accompany our vegetarian Christmas dinner of mushroom pie. A great beer, packed full of complex flavours, it went down a treat.

The real beery treat on Christmas day, though, was two of the presents my thoughtful girlfriend got for me. Having taken advice from Zak at Beer Ritz, she’d been out and bought me corked 75cl bottles of Flying Dog Wild Dog Schwartz and Victory V Saison. I’ve not dared drink these yet – I’m waiting for a special occasion.

Gouden Carolus Noel

Gouden Carolus Noel

Boxing Day meant more of that heavenly sherry, and visits to family, all finished off superbly by Gouden Carolus Noel a special Christmas beer that was just that – special and Christmassy. The dark brown beer was heavy, spicy and figgy and a superb nightcap.

The 27th was another family day and as soon as my driving was over, I indulged in a Dark Star Espresso Stout. For a 4.7% beer it’s surprisingly rich in flavour and manages to pack in a really rich coffee flavour without overwhelming that comforting warmth you’d want from a stout. The beer presents continued here, with my folks getting me a Yorkshire ale box (two Copper Dragon beers and a great Sam Smith’s Taddy Porter) and my brother getting my two beers from Sheffield’s Kelham Island plus a cheese washed in the curds from their Pale Rider, which was interesting. A real taste experience which took some getting used to (cheese and beer work well eaten and drunk side-by-side, but combined in one is a little more acquired) but eventually kept my palate very happy indeed.

From there, it was days in Lancashire centered around the wedding of two friends. I shan’t go into details but it was an amazing do, complete with dancing, surf rock, great food and, most importantly, a lovely couple getting hitched. As an aside they also provided a cask of very local Hen Harrier by the Bowland Brewery. As you’d want for a wedding (and a subsequent NYE party which it lasted for) it was easy drinking, crisp and pale with some nice citrus flavours.

New Year’s Day (aka my birthday) was a day to break out a couple of quality beers, namely the aforementioned Samuel Smith’s Taddy Porter, really amazingly rich with roasted barley flavours, and even better the BrewDog and Mikkeller Divine Rebel. This beer, a collaboration between two very impressive craft brewers, is partly aged in whiskey barrels and the taste tells you that straight away. It’s full of toffee and caramel flavours and packs a mighty punch.

An even better beer-related occurrence on that day, however, was another present from my wonderful girlfriend. This time it wasn’t beer, but the ability to make beer (give a child a fish and he’ll be able to feed himself for a day, give the child a net and he’ll be able to… and so on). Yup, she signed me up for a two day homebrew course in February. I will report back on that in good time.

Which brings me to my final subject. My homebrew. I made some back in November. Because my house is cold it took ages, but it’s ready to drink now, and also in hands of numerous friends and family members across the country. What’s it like? Well, it’s from a kit called Old Homewrecker, but it’s only around 4.5%. It’s a darkish winter ale and, like all novice homebrew, it’s just about ok. It’s drinkable, but as it has no hopping to speak of, it likes anything like a real depth of flavour. Plus, it’s got a fair bit of sediment in. We don’t have a name for it yet.

I expect my next brew, post-course, will be far better.

It’s Christmas so: Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale 2009

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale and my Christmas tree

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale and my Christmas tree

As anyone who’s ever been in a pub, wandered into an off license, or glanced at booze in a supermarket before, knows, Christmas always means loads of special Christmas beers. They’re often slightly red in colour, regularly have a stupid picture of Father Christmas on the pump clip or label and are a godsend to out of work pun writers. They’re also, more often than note, a wee bit stronger than a typical ale (normally English Christmas brews hit somewhere between 5% and 6%).

In other country’s, Christmas beers are something truly spectacular. Give Belgium’s De Dolle brewer’s Stille Nacht a go, or, best of all Gouden Carlous’ Christmas ale, or Bush Noel. In fact, just try some Belgium Christmas ales. They tend to be over 10%, pretty much pitch black and rich, roasty and spicy.

I have a Stille Nacht and Gouden Carlous Christmas in my cellar. But they’re being saved for Christmas day. But, this bottle of Sierra Nevada Celebration was looking very tempting one cold December evening when I needed a winter warmer.

It pours (as many other festive beers do) a ruby red colour, with a nice creamy head.  The smell, well, there’s loads of hops in there, but also something Christmassy, it’s hard to put your finger on at first, but yep, this smells of pine, it’s like a Christmas tree in a beer. And that’s a good thing.

At 6.2% it packs the punch you would expect, with the initial hoppy bitterness cleansing the palette and allowing, again, for those piney flavours to lurk in, along with hints of red berries too. It’s a great beer for these cold December evenings, but doesn’t pack those deliciously over-the-top flavours that some Belgian Christmas beers go for – but then this is a very different kind of beer.