Fire in the Cas­tle Clas­sic-style Smoked Beer

Josh Weik­ert

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Recipes In This Issue -

There are ef­fec­tively three smoked-beer cat­e­gories in the 2015 BJCP guide­lines: Rauch­bier, Spe­cialty Smoked Beer (which in­cor­po­rates spe­cialty in­gre­di­ents or un­de­fined styles in ad­di­tion to smoke), and Clas­sic Style Smoked Beer, upon which I’ll fo­cus here. The guide­lines for the in­di­vid­ual base styles are ob­vi­ously go­ing to vary, but the guide­lines do pro­vide some use­ful guid­ance for any of those to which you might add smoke. The key­word to­day is bal­ance. In whichever style you choose to smoke up, the smoke char­ac­ter should more or less equal in mag­ni­tude the strong­est fla­vor in the profile and should com­ple­ment and en­hance the fla­vors present. This is both eas­ier and harder than you might think. Style: Smoked malts can be touchy to work with. For one, not ev­ery batch of smoked malt is iden­ti­cal, even when com­prised of the same grain and smoked with the same wood. For an­other, wood fla­vors present dif­fer­ently from one palate to the next. In ad­di­tion, the sec­ondary fla­vors (other than “smoke”) may in­ter­act in un­ex­pected ways with your other in­gre­di­ents. Keep­ing that in mind, I rec­om­mend be­gin­ning with (and maybe stick­ing to) sim­pler base styles as your “smok­ing” tar­gets (the base style for our recipe is English Brown Ale). Can you brew a smoked Bel­gian Stout? Yes. Should you? Maybe not. Recipe: Think of smoked malt as a base malt in the same fam­ily as Mu­nich. It’s not that dark (2–4L vs. 9–10L in Mu­nich malt), but the smok­ing adds a depth of fla­vor that makes it seem heav­ier. We have two ques­tions to an­swer: which wood and how much? Con­ven­tional Bam­berg-style Rauch­malt is beech-smoked and will work for most styles. It has a clean ba­sic smoke fla­vor that won’t get in the way of any­thing. It’s very com­monly avail­able. A slightly less com­mon but still avail­able malt is cherry-smoked, and while its fla­vor is roughly com­pa­ra­ble to that of the beech-smoked (it’s some­times de­scribed as a “sweeter” smoke), it should have a longer fin­ish—you’ll taste it much more in the af­ter­taste of your beer, mak­ing it a bet­ter choice for richer/ stronger base styles. Oak-smoked wheat malt might also be lurk­ing on the shelves of your lo­cal shop and to my palate adds a co­coa-and-spice fla­vor that can be a lot of fun in pale beers! Then there are the more in­tensely fla­vored (hick­ory, mesquite, wal­nut) and rarer (pecan, maple) woods—ap­proach these with cau­tion but don’t be afraid to ex­per­i­ment with them! The “how much” ques­tion goes against the grain for me (not a pun): use more than you think you need or want, ex­cept on the stronger woods noted above. I find that sub­bing in smoked malt for half of your base malt(s), to start, is a good per­cent­age. The in­ten­sity of smoke fla­vor in your beer is not re­ally a func­tion of the per­cent­age of smoked malt in the grist: it’s the level of smok­ing in the malt. Hav­ing said that, you’ll need a suf­fi­cient amount to bring out that clear char­ac­ter, so you don’t want to short­change it and cre­ate a beer that’s mostly “X” style, but with a “hint” of smoke. In these recipes, there’s no cor­rect­ing for “not enough smoke” down the line, so you need it all up front. Fi­nally, con­sider adding a bit (2–3 per­cent of the grist) of choco­late rye to any style that you’re go­ing to smoke but that should fin­ish dry: I’ve found it to be al­most uni­ver­sally true that the added smoke presents as sweet on the palate. I had lim­ited suc­cess balanc­ing it with bit­ter­ness, but a touch of dry­ing roast was per­fect.. Process: These smoked malts need to be mashed, and I’m un­aware of good ex­tract op­tions. This might be the ex­cuse you need to up­grade to an all­grain tun, BIAB, or par­tial-mash sys­tem!

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