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  • Pass the Rauch

    Your intrepid liquor reporter has been passing a few Rauches back and forth with his drinking buddies lately.

    No, gentle reader, that’s not the same thing you used to do during the summer of 1969 while you followed the Grateful Dead around in your VW minibus.

    Rauch is a particular style of German beer, and has only recently become available in Alberta. The full name is Rauchbier, which for the non-Deutschlanders in the audience translates to Smoked Beer.

    The Rauchbier style can trace its history back to 15th century Franconia, which is now part of modern-day Germany.

    Rauchbier is prepared by drying the malting barley over an open beechwood flame, which imparts a strong smoky flavour to the barley. This smoky aroma persists through the brewing process, and gives the beer a flavour of spiced or smoked meat, similar to a fine German sausage.

    Scotch drinkers may recognize similarities between a Rauchbier and a nice peaty Scotch Whisky, as both use open flames to dry the malting barley, which infuses the booze with the smoke from the fire.

    Drinkers of the fizzy yellow water that is put out by the megabreweries will find a Rauchbier a strange and bewildering tipple, so this style of beer is only for the adventurous and open-minded.

    Back in the beer-soaked mists of time, all beers were Rauchbiers, because drying barley over an open fire was pretty much the only way to go.

    However, kiln drying gained popularity at the dawn of the industrial revolution, which kept the malting barley out of direct contact with the flame. This certainly made for a cleaner and more crisp beer, and pretty much all malting barley is kiln dried these days.

    Despite the majority of barley being kiln-dried since the 1800’s, the Rauchbier style has remained widely available in Germany for centuries. Sadly, there are only a ew microbreweries in Canada (all in Quebec) that have been producing this style for the Canadian market.

    Montreal’s Dieu du Ciel brewery has been producing a Rauchbier called Charbonnière (Coal Woman) since 1999, and the Brasseurs du Temps brewery out of Gatineau brews one called Mille Neuf Cendres (1009 Ashes).

    Your globetrotting liquor reporter has enjoyed these beers a few times over the years at charming little sidewalk cafès in Old Montreal, but they are very hard to find in Alberta.

    Luckily, Calgary’s own Big Rock Brewery put out their own Rauchbier last year, and it is available at select watering holes around the city. If you are pairing this beer with food, try a nice pepperjack cheese or spicy salami to complement the flavour of the beer.

    The beer has been well received by the beer cognoscienti about town, and it even won the Rookie Of The Year award at last year’s Calgary BeerFest.

    The Rauchbier is part of the Big Rock Brewmaster’s Series, which comes out of the tiny pilot brewery inside their main facility that lets them run small batches of brews for the discriminating beer fan.

    The wee brewery-within-a-brewery is affectionately named the Kaspar Schulz. I couldn’t reach any of my German-speaking friends to translate before this issue went to press, so I gave up and started humming Rock the Kaspar, which I must assume was the intention of the brewmaster.

    Since the Rauchbier is coming out of the small pilot brewery, the entire run is being kegged instead of bottled, so you will only be able to enjoy it on tap. I’ve already visited a few of my favorite beer-geek bars in Calgary, and they’ve all got it. Check out Bottlescrew Bills, the Hop n’ Brew, Ship & Anchor, etc.

    To go off on a tangent for a moment, the Kaspar Schulz pilot brewery is producing a wide range of other small brews, all in limited production runs. I also had the opportunity to sample a Dunkelweizen (think of a dark Grasshopper), a Belgian Cherry Ale, and many others. It is basically a playground that the brewmaster can experiment in, without tying up expensive equipment in the main brewery.

    This is a boon to lovers of good beer, as it means the Alberta market will see a wide variety of one-off and seasonal brews to tantalize our palates. Your intrepid liquor reporter will be following the @BigRockBrewery twitter updates with bated breath for the next release!