Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Rauch Against the Machine

I am just going to come out and say it, I have loved rauchbier ever since I first had Schlenkerla's iconic Märzen back in Prague in 2008. Just as honest is that so many American made smoke beers have been deeply disappointing. In my experience they just lack enough of the smoke character to keep me coming back for more. When it comes to rauchbier I am an extremist, I don't want a hint of bacon, I want an entire side of pig smoked up a chimney burning good hardwoods.

As autumn continues its drift toward ever deepening darkness, and my mood generally improves as I much prefer the cold and dark of a northern winter, smoke beers become more and more appealing. For the first time, this year I gave in to my love of Schlenkerla and ordered an entire case of Märzen from the awesome folks at Beer Run, minor aside I wish all European lagers in the US came in half litre bottles. With that case running low, I got a case of Urbock and decided it would be fun to do a side by side tasting, with a couple of American beers chucked in for interest's sake. Here's the lineup.


I did a comparative tasting of the Von Trapp Trösten and Schlenkerla Urbock last winter and even then knew I wanted to compare it to both the Märzen and Urbock this year. Port City having their Rauch Märzen available as part of their fantastic Lager Series was the icing on the cake. For fear of prattling on ad nauseum, I will go to the tasting... starting with the lowest ABV:


Port City Rauch Märzen
  • Sight - deep auburn, red highlights, rocky ivory head that lasts, nice clarity
  • Smell - wood smoke to the fore, touch of breadiness, some molasses
  • Taste - mix of bread and wood smoke, settles to reveal some herbal hop notes
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
When I first tried this is reminded me of the Spezial Märzen I had in Bamberg last year, at least in terms of colour. While it is a lovely beer and certainly one of the best US made rauchbiers I have had, it isn't as transcendently glorious as Spezial. What we do have here is a beautiful, clean, medium bodied lager that finishes nicely dry, and leaves you wanting more, which is just as well as I have another dozen 16oz cans in the fridge.


Von Trapp Trösten
  • Sight - dark brown, deep red highlights, lasting half inch tan head, excellent clarity
  • Smell - light smoke, roasted malts, toasty, some spicy hops, hints of coffee
  • Taste - bready Munich like malt sweetness, wisps of smokiness, roasty, dark bitter chocolate
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5
I have no evidence for this other than my own subjective opinion, but I feel like the smoke in this has been dialed back compared to the 2019 version. That's not to say that this is a bad beer, far, far from it, it is a lovely complex dark lager with a hint of smoke that if you didn't know was there would probably stand out as a key element of that complexity. Being me though, I wanted more of the smoke, but I guess that just means I'll drink it next to the fire and breath deeply.


Schlenkerla Märzen
  • Sight - deep, deep garnet, 1 inch off-white head that lingers, and lingers, good clarity
  • Smell - it's Schlenkerla so dollops of beechwood, like sitting next to a roaring fire, a hint of well aged cheese (in a very good way)
  • Taste - beechwood very much front and mittel, beyond that a lovely breadiness, pumpernickel, earthy hops, did I mention the smoke yet?
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Even after all these years this just hits the spot perfectly, though for the first time I noticed that the body is actually relatively light for a rauchbier, probably explains the insane drinkability. Great balance, and deeply complex.


Schlenkerla Urbock
  • Sight - dark chestnut, rich ruby hints, light brown head that lasts an age
  • Smell - it's another Schlenkerla, the aroma is so distinctive that there is not a better way of saying it, loamy earth and leaf litter, tobacco
  • Taste - deeply smokey, some almost stollen like sweet bread character, seriously dark chocolate
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5
What. A. Beer. Absolutely glorious, even if a touch on the cold side straight from the fridge. Medium to medium-full body, beautiful silken mouthfeel, and a finish that is clean and dry yet doesn't linger too long. Where the Märzen is angelic, the Urbock is simply divine.

So there we have it, 4 excellent beers, each worth drinking in their own right, and in the case of the Port City evidence that all is not lost when it comes to American made examples of the style. Given that I have a total of about 2 cases' worth of beer remaining of these four, I have plenty of fine drinking ahead of me this autumn, every prospect pleases.

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Rauch Against the Machine

I am just going to come out and say it, I have loved rauchbier ever since I first had Schlenkerla's iconic Märzen back in Prague in 2008...