Like Mike Reis, educator and beer writer at Serious Eats, discusses in Smoked Beers: Your Secret Weapon for Beer Pairing, I detested my first sip of rauchbiere (smoked beer). And my second. And my fifth.
Smoked beer, made with smoked rather than toasted barley malt, is a force. Some of it tastes as light as the breeze wafting by on spring day after a neighbor lights a bbq. Some taste like they have been vigorously stirred with a just-charred stick. And others unabashedly flaunt their resemblance to a late-night camp fire pit that’s just been doused with a bucket of water before folks retire to their tents.
That is to say that it has quite a presence. Beer used to all be made this way. Prior to the days of electricity, propane, or coal, all barley was cooked (and inadvertently, smoked) over open flames, so it all had a smoky note to it. Now people make smoked beer as a nod to those days, or because they genuinely like the flavor. Admittedly, that “genuinely like the flavor” part is hard for some to grasp. Because my first and second sip of it made me think more “ashtray” than “artisan” or “lost art,” I can understand why. But now, my friends, I’m a believer. And a drinker.
I like smoked beer. Especially with triple-creme cheese.
A few months after my fifth unappreciated taste of the smoked one, I picked up a rauchbiere that pleased me. Though I wasn’t sure I would finish a second bottle, I sensed skill in the subtle smoky application, and definitely finished the first bottle. Then I saw Reis’s article Smoked Beers: Your Secret Weapon for Beer Pairing in which he talked about how anyone could grow to love a smoked beer with the right food pairing. And what my friends, is the right food pairing? Cheese! Always, cheese!
Because he suggested pairing rauchbiere with heavy, smoky foods, grill-ables, or rich, sweet foods like pie, I thought, hey, maybe a triple creme would work. It’s in-your-face rich, sweet, and, I thought, might be able to stand up to the ferocity that is a smoked beer.
So when teaching a “Perfect Pairings” class at The Cheese School of San Francisco, I decided to test this theory. Reis helped me select the lightly smoked beauty above, because, well, I had no idea what I was doing. The Schlenkerla It’s a lightly smoked, wheat, marzen beer.
The class loved the pairing. Not all of them liked the rauchbiere immediately on its own, but even those that didn’t liked it with the triple creme. I guess 75% butterfat helps make even the smokiest of ( delicious) medicine go down. And those whose favorite style of cheese wasn’t a triple liked the buttery wheel better with the beer. Together they tasted like… smoky ice cream, which I can tell you, is pretty darn impressive.
The triple we chose that day was Brillat Savarin. Creme fraiche is added the whole milk when the cheese is made, hence amping up the butterfat factor to a velvety 75%. Other triples I’d turn to are: Nancy’s Camembert, Delice de Bourgogne, Mt Tam, Kunik, or… do you have any ideas for this pairing?
Next time you’re heading to a bbq, think of picking up a couple rauchebieres for your party. One to try with the grill-ables, and another, to serve with a creamy cheese for a triple-whammy pairing.