This is primarily a beer blog, so it should come as no surprise that Bacon Week had to eventually turn back to the juice of the barley. In this case, it’s as close as the world has yet come to true bacon beer*: Rauchbier.
Rauchbier is a bottom-fermenting lager native to the Franconia area of Germany, specifically the town of Bamberg. From Michael Jackson’s New World Guide to Beer (1988 edition):
This is the beer world’s answer to a single malt Scotch whiskey, especially of the Islay type. Scotch whiskey gains its smoky character from the kilning of barley malt over a fire of the local peat. Bamberger Rauchbier takes its smokiness from the kilning of the same material over beechwood logs.
The first time I ever had rauchbier, I recall it being unbelievably smoky in flavor, and I believe I called it “liquid bacon,” which is how we arrived at reviewing a beer during bacon week. I was able to procure two examples at Belmont Station yesterday.
Spezial Rauchbier (pictured at right) is a lightweight relative to most Portland beers, weighing in at just 4.6% abv, but what it lacks in punch it makes up for in flavor. Smoke is definitely there, but not in the overwhelming way I recall it my first time. It complements the grainy sweetness, but isn’t the first note I would pick up – that I’d say is the scent of brewing – it smells just like a brewery in the midst of a boil, which is a nice homey flavor. Add to that the smoke and even a bit of pine as a back note, and this is a nice beer for a cool fall evening, like being in front of the fireplace with your slippers on, which I happen to be.
The beer I must have been thinking of when I coined the term “liquid bacon” must have been Aecht Schenkerla Rauchbier (pictured at left). Much darker in color than the Spezial, this beer is also about five times more assertive in the smoke department, reminding me less of a comfy evening in front of the fireplace, and more a long day in front of the smoker working on an 18-hour beef brisket. The smoke flavor sticks to your mouth like a tarry coat, peaking in flavor almost a minute after you swallow. It’s not unpleasant, but this is no session beer – far from it. It’s more in the category of what I’d call a “teaching beer,” one that educates the drinker on the vast flavor profiles available in beer, but not one that many are likely to purchase again and again.
* That is, until Sam Calagione applies his magic and creates a true bacon beer … and on that day, we’ll be first in line.