My first sample of smoked beer was in the Bull and Castle in Dublin where I had a pint of Schlenkerla Bock – a strong Rauchbier that tastes (and smells) strongly of smoke. This is achieved by the exclusive use of Beech-smoked malt (a.k.a rauchmalt). I have since tried other Schlenkerla beers, particularly liking their Marzen, and also Ghisa – a smoked stout brewed in Milan brewpub Birrifico Lambrate. Inevitably, the use of smoked malt has found it’s way into my own attempts at brewing beer.
Rauchmalt is available for the homebrewer to buy in most good homebrew shops, and I’ve used it with limited success – I’ve never quite been happy with the level of smokiness it brings to a brew. That said I never used any more than 50% of the grist as rauchmalt, so maybe I should try using a lot more (hmmmm….) Also available is the more pungent Peat-smoked malt, which needs to be used with caution as it can be quite overpowering.
Having been inspired by the book Radical Brewing, I decided to see what other flavours smoking malt can achieve, and so set about smoking my own malt. The process is very simple – light a small charcoal fire and put some wood chips on this to smoulder. You then need to set the whole malt on top of this, but not directly over any heat, and somehow trap the smoke so that it remains in contact with the malt. My setup was indeed very simple – a small pot-belly barbeque, with a splash guard to hold the malt and covered with a lid from an old brewpot!
Though a simple setup, it means I can only smoke 200-250g at a go.So it’s experimental brews only!
I have a large piece of Bog Oak at home, so this was an obvious candidate for use. As it has been in a bog for God knows how long (several thousand years maybe) I expected it to be akin to peat rather than wood. And indeed, it turned out to be quite pungent. I made a very simple beer with it (70% Lager malt, 30% smoked malt, a little Challenger for hopping and S-33 ale yeast). The phenols were quite heavy,and though I used 30% of the grist (which is way over the amount recommended for Peat-smoked malt), it wasn’t overpowering. Possibly this was due to my process – I did not wet the malt before smoking it, had I done this then more phenols may have been absorbed by the malt and the flavour may have been stronger. Regardless, I presented it a Beoir meet in Waterford, where it went down well. Maybe it was the rarity factor that helped get a thumbs up, it was the only bottle of Bog Oak-smoked Ale in existence 🙂
More recently, I smoked a little whole Vienna malt with some Birch wood. I’ve had in ‘resting’ for a few weeks now (it’s a good idea not to brew with smoked malt straight away), so it’ll be ready to use now. Birch-smoked Märzen anyone?