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:

Meanwood Drinking: Ridgeside Brewery & a new pub?

Meanwood Institute, a lovely Meanwood building

Meanwood Institute, a lovely Meanwood building

I’m back. I’ve been quiet for ages. Largely because I’ve been a bit lazy. And I’m going to continue in a relatively lazy fashion by linking to one of my man beery writings for Leeds Guide.

Imagine my excitement when, flicking through the often tedious Yorkshire Evening Post, I spot a story on a new brewery in Leeds. Then, I read on and find out it’s in my hood of Meanwood. Then I read on some more and discover it will be named after the beautiful (it really is beautiful, I’m not just saying it) Meanwood Ridge.

Suffice to say. I was thrilled. So much so that I emailed Simon, the intrepid former engineer behind the brewery, straight away and requested to interview him both for my blog and Leeds Guide. The blog interview is going to wait because there’s no beer to try yet (thus, not as much fun to be had), but we decided to chat with Simon before he opened up and run a story in the magazine.

You can read what he had to say (and my ongoing promotion for Meanwood in the magazine here: Ridgeside Brewery

They have a website too, which is bit bare, but it’s here if you’re interested: The Ridgeside Brewing Company

Meanwood is fast becoming the place to be for beer fans. I was very excited to note than in Meanwood’s swanky new Becketts complex (some apartments and a few empty shop units) Market Town Taverns, the folk behind Arcadia, one of my favourite Headingley pubs, are applying for a license for a new boozer. VERY exciting news for me. MTT’s pubs are always cask ale focussed, with a good array of continental beers (mainly German and Belgian) to boot.

While I’m promoting Meanwood, I’ll also mention that our neighbourhood Italian, Via Verde, is also well good. I wrote about that for Leeds Guide too, just here: Via Verde

Now if only North Bar would open a sister pub up here…

Crown Brewery Smokin’ Oktoberfest; Four Months Too Late

Why haven’t I already drunk this? Erm, I don’t know.  I bought this beer at the start of October at the recommendation of Zak Avery at Beer Ritz (he told me it was the best Oktoberfest beer they had in, despite it being from Sheffield, and not Germany, which seemed like a good recommendation to you). I’d meant to drink it in October, surely the prime time to drink an Oktoberfest beer, but didn’t. Then November passed by, then December, and so on…

So, it’s sat in my cellar for months now, and Stu, the man behind Crown Brewery (which I’ve written and ranted and raved about before), warned me last week that it might not be over-conditioned and past it best.

It seemed only right that I crack it open as soon as I can. So I do.

And while I leave you awaiting the result, I’ll quickly mention that this isn’t an Oktoberfest beer in the ultra-pure, straight and drinkable Pilsner/lager way. This is an authentic marzen-style rauchbier. Apparently. I’d comment on how authentic it actually is, but I’ve no idea what a marzen-style rauchbier is. Read on and you’ll see what I think.

The opening is spectacular. Rob at Hopzine warned me that this beer was pretty lively way back in October when, like a sensible man, he drank it. To say that this bottle was lively would be something of an understatement.

Crown Brewery Smokin’ Oktoberfest 2009

Crown Brewery Smokin’ Oktoberfest 2009

I put my bottle opener to this in the middle of my kitchen. My arm now smells off Smokin’ Oktoberfest. My kitchen floor’s a bit sticky and smelly and my bottle, after pouring a nice little glass, is half empty (as you can see in this picture her). Yep. This was a true explosion. My sink and floor are a lucky pair of bastards.

Thankfully, none landed anywhere near my tea that this was designed to go with. I’d cooked up a butternut squash and chestnut risotto, and figured that the chestnuts would work well with this beer.

As the name suggests, this is smoky and chewy, full of rich, earthy roasty malt flavours. It’s got a bit of caramel there, and lovely long refreshing finish. And while the nose and first impression of the taste is prominently smoked (not unlike Bavarian ham) it’s not overwhelming. The plan with the meal was that surely roast flavours and chestnuts must work well together?

The good news was that it really bloody does. So much so that I don’t resent nearly half of it messing up my floor and bubbling merrily down my sink. Alas, I don’t think you can get any bottles of this anymore. Maybe they’ll make more for next Oktoberfest? If they do I’ll drink it in October. I promise.

German Attack: Paulaner, Erdinger & Franziskaner

Christmas really loaded me up with beers. Firstly, I bought loads of good stuff in for the season, which I didn’t actually finish all of, and then loads of lovely friends and family bought me plenty of booze too. Hoorah!

Here, we find a post covering three German beers which came in a box of assorted British ales and German beers of all types. Unfortunately much of the British stuff was drunk with a friend one evening, and, as I’ve said, I don’t like many notes when I’m socialising. It’s rude, and I like catchy up with my chums. So they may never get the Reet Good treatment. Pity them, dear reader.

What I have tried and noted down though are three of the Germans. I’ll do it in chronological order. And, sorry to keep making snide jokes about the current neo-prohibitionist trends, but anyone who’s worried about my drinking can rest assured that I drank these on three separate nights (not even consecutive ones) and I even shared one of them. I could be the poster boy for the new movement if they’d like (just don’t tell them that I spend Monday night judging a cocktail competition before trailing round a couple of Leeds’ best cocktail bars sampling their wares, ok?).

So yes, Germany. Famously home of the pilsner and also home of the Reinheitsgebout (aka German beer purity law) which specified that the only three ingedients allowed in beer were water, barley and hops (this was before people were smart enough to understand what yeast was and that it was, y’know, quite important to making beer. I love it that people used to call years godisgoode before they really understood what happened). So all these beers are going to be samey, crisp, refreshing and nowt else, right?

Paulaner Original Munchen Hell

Paulaner

Nope. My drinking did, however, start with a very traditional lager. The Paulaner Original Munchen Hell. Hell was the name given to pale lagers in Germany, original means first. So therefore this is a traditional German lager.

It’s bloody good, too. While it’s true that it lacks the intense flavours of most other beer styles, this is a properly light, refreshing, eminently drinkable lager. It’s straw coloured, the nose gives you citrus and honey and nice sweet things like this and to drink it’s just cool, crisp, refreshing with a little lingering hop bitterness. I’ll be having more of this in the summer, no doubt.

Erdinger Dunkel

Erdinger Dunkel

Moving on a few days later and it was a cold night and I decided to break out the Erdinger Dunkel. They used to have this on tap at North Bar permanently. Maybe they still do now, and before I really knew much about beer, this was always my drink of choice. I remember it being rich and malty and just the right bitterness.

Out of this bottle, though, something was not quite right. On the nose, it smelt disarmingly like my functionable, but otherwise utterly unexceptionable first batch of homebrew. Tasting it, it was better than my homebrew, but not much better. Now, I’m not trying to big up my homebrew here, this bottle was properly disappointing. It had a slight damp cardboardy taste and smell to it, other than that, there wasn’t much there. Had something gone wrong somewhere down the line, or is this a beer for drinking on tap only? I’d be interested in someone could enlighten me. Or, maybe, my homebrew’s just awesome. Or my taste for beer has changed so much that something I once loved not tastes limp. Who knows?

Franzikaner Weissbier Kristall Klar

Franzikaner Weissbier Kristall Klar

I seem to have accidentally saved the best for last. I’ve always enjoyed Franzikaner when I’ve bought it at a very reasonably price from Morrison’s. It was reliable, flavourful and refreshing. I’d never seen Franskinaer’s Weissbier Kristall Klar sister though. I was excited to try it.

So what is Kristall Klar? Well it seems to be the yeast-less, filtered, clear version of the original Franzikaner. It smells amazing, sweet and wheaty with hints of banana, clove, passion fruit and pineapple – loads of tropical fruit infact.

Drinking it, it proves just as sweet, perhaps even lacking in bite, if you’re going to be critical. It’s not a connoseuirs beer, I’ll give you that, but it’s refreshing and just very tasty and light. Almost dessert-ish, but crisp, not sticky, and nice long lager finish. It’s not complex, but just nice. Very nice. And that’s why I like it.