Know Thy Beer – Smoke Beer


Not exactly what we're talking about... 274/365, by anokarina on flikr

As the Great American Beer Festival approaches (16 days!), I’ll be highlighting some of the beer styles you are likely to encounter and what makes them unique.  Today we’ll be covering the smoke beer.  This historic style has its roots in Bamberg, Germany beginning in the 18th century, with the smoked porter not being introduced until 1988 by Alaskan Brewing Co.

This is what the Brewers Association says about the three categories of smoke beer in their Competition Style List:

Bamberg–Style Rauchbier

These are various classic German styles made as smoked beers, including the lager styles Helles, Marzen, and Bock, and the ale Weizen/Weiss styles.  Other German styles made as smoked beers would be appropriately entered in another subcategory shown below.  Smoke character is not harshly phenolic, but rather very smooth, almost rendering a perception of mild sweetness to this style of beer.  Fruity esters, diacetyl, and chill haze should not be perceived in the Helles and Marzen lager versions of this style.


  • Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen – Brauerei Heller-Trum/Schlenkerla, Bamberg, Germany
  • Eisenbahn Rauchbier – Cervejaria Sudbrack Ltda, Blumenau, Brazil
  • Victory Scarlet Fire Rauchbier – Victory Brewing Co, Downington, PA
  • Smoked Lager – Denver Beer Co, Denver, CO


Smoke Porter

Smoke porters are chestnut brown to black in color.  They can exhibit a mild to assertive smoke character in balance with other beer characters.  Black malt character can be perceived in some porters, while others may be absent of strong roast character. Roast barley character should be absent.  Medium to full malt sweetness, caramel and chocolate are acceptable along with medium to medium-high hop bitterness.  These beers are usually medium to full bodied.  Fruity esters are acceptable.  Hop flavor and aroma may vary from being negligible to medium in character.  Smoke Imperial Porter or other versions that deviate from parameters below would be more appropriately entered in another subcategory below.


  • Alaskan Smoked Porter – Alaskan Brewing Co, Juneau, AK
  • Stone Smoked Porter – Stone Brewing Co, Escondido, CA
  • Smoked Baltic Porter – Great Divide Brewing Co, Denver, CO
  • Yazoo Sue – Yazoo Brewing Co, Nashville, TN

Smoke Beer

Any style of beer can be smoked; the goal is to reach a balance between the style’s character and the smoky properties.  Entries in this subcategory do not fit the other two subcategories of smoke beer.

In case you were confused by the BA’s descriptions or if you just plain didn’t feel like reading it, here’s my version.  Smoke beers represent a fairly diverse category.  The Rauchbier has been around for a while (1500’s), while the smoked porter is fairly new (1988).  The smoky character of these beers is achieved by drying malt over an open flame (can also be done by sun-drying or kiln-drying the malt).  In the case of the Rauchbier, the smokiness is often so robust that it smells like smoked meat.  This is very different from the Smoked Porter.  While the Smoked Porter features an equally smoky nose, it is much darker in color (it is a Porter) and combines much heavier malt flavors.

Here are last year’s winners (all three subcategories are combined):

  1. Alaskan Smoked Porter 2009 – Alaskan Brewing Co, Juuneau, AK
  2. Yazoo Sue – Yazoo Brewing Co, Nashville, TN
  3. Gordon Biersch Rauchbier – Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurants, Chattanooga, TN
Have you had a smoked beer before?  If so, which one is your favorite?  Which are you most excited to try this year?

About Sean Buchan

Sean is a Physical Therapist and Photographer living in (and loving) Denver, Colorado. He enjoys shooting just about anything but his true passion is capturing the craft beer culture here in Denver. If you enjoy his photographs check out Beertographer.

  • Josh Rapp

    I love me some beef jerky beer!