Smoked Beers, Rauchbiers whatever you want to refer to them as, are, in my opinion, one of the most underrated styles of beer out there.  Granted for the most part people either love them, or hate them.  There is really not a lot of fair-weather smoked fans.  These beers can be lightly smoked, heavily smoked, taste liked toasted wood, or BBQ.  They can be blended with other styles (see “Fore Smoked Stout from one of my earlier blogs) or they can stand completely on their own.  The varieties of smoked beers are endless and nearly as inventive as the concept behind the style.

History Lesson:  Prior to the introduction of kilning around the time of the industrial age, malt was dried over an open flame, and occasionally by the use of direct sunlight.  By doing this a smoked flavor developed in the malt, that often carried over into the beer, hence the creation of smoked beers.  Once kilning became popular, which dried wet malt using indirect heat, the smokey flavor was no longer imparted into the malts and thus smoked beers became less and less popular.

A look at the kilning process

While today’s kilning process has lead to extremely well-modified grains, as craft beer and unique beer styles continue to become more and more popular, an obvious demand for the return of smoked malts returned.  Today smoked malts can be found at any Local Homebrew Store including (insert shameless plug) The Homebrew Emporium.  Not only have smoked malts made their return, but a variety of different smoked malts are available, varying by the type of wood used to smoke them.  Some of the most common varieties are Beech Smoked, Peat Smoked and my personal favorite Cherry Smoked which reminds me of BBQ and bacon 🙂

Cherry Smoked Malt

For those out there who have never tried a smoked beer but are now intrigued, I urge you to find the closest craft beer store and see if they have received this year’s batch of “Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock” from the Brewery Tavern Schlenkerla.  This smoked bock is not easy to find, but if you are lucky enough to track it down, it is amazing.  Smoky campfire goodness, along with notes of bacon and pork this beer exemplifies the smoked beer style.



Ok, that is the end of my history lesson, time for what this blog was really all about….making a rauchbier.  Today I am going to take you through some of the steps of making 11:11 Brewing’s “Saccobier”  A whiskey smoked rauchbier, named appropriately after my nights around the campfire on Sacco River in New Hampshire.  Like all of my personal recipes, I will probably withhold a couple of secrets but the rest of this blog should give you some quality insight into how to make, and what goes into a nice smoked beer.

First off let’s talk about the grain bill.  As I previously stated almost any style of beer can become a smoked beer.  Ultimately you are taking a base beer style and infusing it with smoked malts.  That being said certain styles seem to pair better and for my version of the smoked beer I like to stick with a simple malty style ale.

For my base malt (again the grain that makes up the majority of my fermentable sugars) I am sticking with a classic U.S. 2-row.  However I am substituting a little under half of the base malt with a unique combination of Beech and Cherry smoked malts.  Adding this much smoked malt to the grain bill certainly “brings the smoke”, but in my opinion smoked flavor tends to subside over time, so, by upping the amount of initial smoke, that flavor is able to be retained in the bottle or keg for a longer amount of time.  Besides base malt and the smoked malt, I also add a little bit of munich for some maltiness, a small amount of dark malts for color and a dextrine malt called carapils to help build the beers body.  (The body and mouthfeel of a beer can be altered in a variety of ways, one of the more popular ways is the addition of unfermentable sugar strains which can be found in grains like carapils.)

Base 2-row for “Saccobier”

Prepping to mill the grains

With the grains selected and milled up, my next step was to concoct my mash schedule.  The mash as talked about in previous posts is the time where the grain is heated up and broken down to pull out the fermentable sugars from the grain’s endosperms.  The amount of water used and the temperature at which the grain is mashed all have a major effect on the outcome of the beer.  A general rule of thumb, although I tend to tinker with it to adjust the mouthfeel and body of the beer is about 1.25 quarts of water per pound of grain for the initial mash.

The mash temperature also plays a role in deciding how sweet or dry the beer will be as well as the “body” of the beer, thin, medium full etc.  The cooler the mash, the more fermentable sugars that get pulled out of the grain.  More sugars pulled out lead to a thinner bodied beer and a dryer tasting beer since those “sweet” sugars will be fermented into alcohol.  Furthermore a cooler mash tends to lead to a higher original gravity and thus a stronger beer.  A hotter mash leaves more unfermentable sugars in the hot wort.  Therefore since these sugars won’t be turned into alcohol the ABV will be a little lower, but the beer will be sweeter and also fuller bodied since the sugars will remain in suspension.

Anyways back to brewing…
For this beer I did a 90 minute mash at 154 degrees.  Ultimately creates a medium bodied beer with a little bit of residual sweetness, that works nicely with the smoked flavor and the bite from the whiskey flavor.

154 degree mash in the MLT for 90 minutes

Once the 90 minute mash was completed, I drained out my first runnings into my brew kettle and collected about 1.75 gallons of wort.  While doing this I had heated up my sparge water to 172 degrees and added that to the MLT.  After batch sparging for about 15 minutes and draining out the second runnings I collected my anticipated volume of 6.5 gallons of wort.  I am aiming for a 5 gallon batch but during the boil portion of the brew some of the volume will boil off.  Furthermore with the temperature beginning to get colder outside, the amount of boil off begins to increase, therefore I needed to make sure that I had enough pre-boil volume to hit my final target.

Once the wort had come to a boil it was time to start my hop schedule.  For this particular beer, I was simply looking for some hop balance to help even out the maltiness and smokiness of this beer.  Therefore I chose two varieties of low alpha hops to use in this beer.  This way I could get the hop balance I was looking for without adding to much flavor or bitterness.  For this beer I used Willamette hops from the Willamette Valley in the pacific northwest, and a small addition of German Hallertau one of the 5 “noble hops”.

An ounce of Willamette T-90 pellets.
We can leave the pellet versus whole hop argument for another day!

Since this is a beer that I filter, I also added irish moss (glorified seaweed) into the boil during the last 15 minutes.  Irish moss works as a coagulant and helps pull proteins that form haze out of suspension.  If you are looking to make a clear filtered beer irish moss or whirlfloc is a must.

With the boil done and the base smoked beer cooling, it was finally time to add my twist on this awesome beer style.  Now I’ll admit I would LOVE to have some whiskey or bourbon barrels sitting around at my place so that I could age my beer in them.  The problem however is two-fold.  First they are very expensive and tend to have limited amounts of use.  Secondly barrels are generally HUGE and finding 5 or 10 gallon barrels is near impossible, therefore we have to be inventive and come up with different ways to get that whiskey aged flavor into our beers.

Some people swear by the alcohol flavorings, simply adding them prior to kegging or bottling.  I say screw that!  I believe the best way to replicate this flavor is through the use of oak chips.  Heck, if you are trying to replicate the use of an oak barrel, wouldn’t a broken down barrel in your beer seem to be the best bet.

I always have a batch of whiskey chips “marinating” in my workshop.  Generally I take about 2 ounces of a light toasted oak chip and pour a quality whiskey until the chips are completely submerged.  I seal up the container and give each batch at least 4 months before use.  This gives the chips enough time to soak up the whiskey and also age and flavor.

2 ounces of light toasted oak chips after soaking in whiskey for about 4 months

By using the wood chips not only do I capture that whiskey flavor but I also get a bit of that aged wood flavor that matches very nicely with the smokiness of the beer.

As a brewer, you could add your whiskey chips at a variety of different points during the brewing process.  During the mash, in primary or even in secondary.  I prefer to add mine in primary so that I can control the flavor output a little more.  The later in the process the chips, or any flavoring for the matter, are added the stronger the flavor will be.  Since I am trying to add a subtle whiskey flavor without having it over power the beer and smoked notes, adding it in the primary will make it present but not overpowering.  The key with anything, whether it is beer, mead, wine or even food is finding a balance where everything works together and nothing over powers the other flavors.

After my wort had cooled and I transferred the wort into my primary fermenter, it was finally time to add the chips.  I wanted to make sure that any residual whiskey was removed before I added my chips so I quickly strained the chips.

Straining the whiskey chips prior to adding them to “Saccobier”

Ready to add

With the chips strained, the final step was adding them to the beer, rousing them a little bit and finally pitching the yeast.  I used a nice clean English Ale yeast for the beer and what will most likely be 2012’s last batch of campfire beer is fermenting away.

Adding the chips

There you have it, another beer down, another style discussed and another walk through of brewing completed.  I will ferment this beer at 68 degrees for 10 days before racking it over to secondary and letting it age and develop for about 3 weeks.

Any questions, just leave a comment!

Categories: Beer

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