Very bad day at home. Time for a tasting that will probably ruin me. pic.twitter.com/mfJCxAX2zDI'm here to say I survived, free from ruin. It's no longer my habit to consume a liter of beer unless I'm in Ireland. So I consumed probably 80% of those beers over two hours, along with the sample of spirit I'd obtained from Peatin' Meetin' 2014.
— Michael Kravitz (@kravitz_hubris) September 5, 2014
Okay, let me take a step back. Schlenkerla is a pub in Bamberg, Germany that has become well known for the rauchbier (or Smoked Beer) that they brew onsite. Rauchbiers get their smoky character from malted barley dried over open flames. The damp barleycorns absorb some of the characteristics from the resulting smoke......which may sound a little familiar to peated whisky fans. And the good news is, Schlenkerla has started to experiment with distilling their smoky beers.
After escaping with a sample of the Rauchbier spirit last month, I wasn't sure what to expect from the stuff, nor what should accompany it. With some quick research I discovered that a few of Schlenkerla's rauchbiers have made their way to the US. So I bought the two that I found at a local store so that I could match them up with the spirit.
Here's the Twitter pic again, cleaned up.
In the back are the beers, Urbock (6.5%abv) and Marzen (5.1%abv). Up front is the spirit (40%abv). I'm not a beer connoisseur, but I do like beer a lot. The fact that these two aren't pushing 9% or 10% abv (as many American craft beers have been doing lately) is also much appreciated. The Urbock and Marzen do not need a higher alcohol content since their flavors are quite potent already.
Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbeir URBOCK (6.5% ABV)
Color -- Cassis juice. Almost black with hints of red.
Nose -- Massively bacony and hammy. Lots of barley. Coffee brewing and dark chocolate melting. Old sweaty gym clothes.
Palate -- Caol Ila of beers. Actually Caol Ila with some extra charred bacon thrown in. Moderate sweetness and bitterness. A bit ashy and savory.
Finish -- Huge (pronounced: yooooooge). Ashy, charred things; very similar to peat smoke. Pre-lit matchsticks and manure.
Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchier MARZEN (5.1% ABV)
Color -- Similar to the Urbock.
Nose -- Mesquite chips, pre- and post-barbecue. Stout-ish. Some coffee and dirty hay notes. After some time there's a full note of vegetable oil burning in the fryer.
Palate -- Grainier than the Urbock. Very refreshing actually, with a mild sweetness, roasted coffee, and honey. Occasionally feels like a very low ABV bourbon cask Ardbeg.
Finish -- Here's the bacon, alongside a little bit of coffee and hops.
Verdict: Winners, both. Urbock is darker in nature, perhaps a bit too much of a wallop for a summertime beverage, but probably a killer on a rainy night. Marzen is lighter and could work during all seasons. They each run about $5-$6 per half liter bottle. I will be buying them again.
Next up is the spirit distilled from the smoked beer. There's not a lot of info about it online and Schlenkerla's site doesn't reference it at all. Some sites say that it is aged in Michel Couvreur casks for a few to several months. Their distributor in New Jersey says it is "matured in M. Couvreur whiskey barrels for 24 months. They then add freshly smoked barley malt to the barrels, and age for an additional 12 months." So now you know as much as I do.
Aecht Schlenkerla Smokemalt Rauchbier Spirit (40% ABV)
Color -- Medium gold, with quite a bit of unfiltered schmutz floating around.
Nose -- Very big and bright considering its alcohol content. Black licorice, cinnamon candy, oatmeal, and baked raisins.
Palate -- Intensely herbal, like a hoppy eau-de-vie. That's followed by apple and cinnamon with lots of pepper and clove. Sweet anise candy. Sometimes seems like a second cousin to a good rye spirit.
Finish -- Caramel apples with cloves. A hint of smoke and bacon.
Grade Range: B-/B
I really liked this, but I'm not comfortable grading it higher until I have a larger sample to reference. It's mostly a raw eau-de-vie style spirit. The refill whisky barrels give it some color but rarely interject. There's much less smoke here than in the beers, but the palate and nose are just as aggressive in their own way.
The price on the Smokemalt Spirit will scare away most customers; $110 for a 750mL bottle. Most of us are not in the habit of paying that sort of money for a three-year-old whisky. But it's not whisky. This is a different creature, one not frequently available in this part of the world. As always, I recommend you try before you buy it, if that is humanly possible with this thing. And, perhaps, if you do some googling you may find half bottles for $55...
The Peatin' Meetin' Scorecard so far...
-- Balvenie 17 year old Islay Cask (OB, 43% ABV) - Grade Range: B-/B
-- Loch Lomond Peated, green label (OB, 46% ABV) - Grade Range: D+/C-
-- Bowmore 16 year old 1990 Sherry Cask (OB, 53.8% ABV) - Grade Range: B-
-- Laphroaig 13 year old 1994 (Cadenhead, 54.7% ABV) - Grade Range: B-/B
-- Bladnoch Lightly Peated 11 year old 2002 K&L exclusive (OB, 51.5%) - Grade Range: B
-- Longrow 10 year old Sherrywood (OB, 46% ABV) - Grade Range: B+/A-
-- Laphroaig 15 year old 1998 K&L exclusive (Signatory, 61% ABV) - Grade Range B/B+
-- Schlenkera Rauchbier Spirit (40% ABV) - Grade Range: B-/B