The subtitle of Lew’s topic for today’s beer blogging Friday is “Smoke ’em if you’ve got ’em.” Which poses a problem, ’cause I ain’t got ’em. I’ve looked through the depths of the beer fridge, in the lower reaches of the wine fridge, in the cellar and even the back of my condo storage locker and haven’t been able to find a single smoked malt beer. Not even a peated malt beer. Nothing.
So instead of drinking and writing, I’m going to reminisce about one of the most remarkable smoked beers I’ve ever tasted, except that is wasn’t smoked. Allow me to explain.
The scene was a beer writer-filled bus on the last day of a press trip through Bavaria. We had visited numerous breweries over several days, as you might imagine, and scribbled copious notes on hefeweizens, dunkels, steinbiers and plain ol’ pale lagers. And now, for the final three or so hour run from Kulmbach to Munich, it was time to kick back, put on some music and relax with many of the beers we’d accumulated over the preceding days, and believe me, we had cases of the stuff.
Since most of us had known each other even before the trip, the atmosphere was casual and conversational, much as you’d find in a pub. Bottles were popped and split, observations sometimes discussed but never recorded, and a good time was had by all. Until, that is, someone opened a Schlenkerla Helles.
The beer stopped each person tasting it dead in their tracks. It was, not to put too fine a spin on it, sublime, with a very subtle smokiness, softly quenching maltiness and dry, crisp finish. But wait, “subtle smokiness”? We all paused. Hadn’t Matthias Trum, who mans operations at Schlenkerla, told us there was no smoked malt in this beer? He had, we were sure – and later confirmed – which meant that this beer had a…contact smokiness? It was true, it was remarkable, and it was delicious.
Eventually we all went back to drinking and chatting, but that one beer had really commanded our attention for a good, long time. The non-smoked smoked beer, and a pale lager, at that. Proof that no matter how much beer you taste, there’s always something surprising waiting around the next corner.