Despite increasing levels of vaccinations, the third wave of the pandemic continues to rock Alberta, which has remained the COVID hotspot of North America for past month. I remain safely isolated in my windowless wine cellar, emerging only to accept the weekly deliveries of groceries and libations.
The most recent delivery from the hard-working folks at SPUD included a four-pack of German-styled Rauchbier from Brauerie Fahr in Turner Valley, the most authentic German brewery this side of Munich.
For those readers not familiar with this brew, Rauchbier is a particular style of German beer that has only been glimpsed rarely in Alberta, including this limited seasonal release from Brauerie Fahr. For the non-Deutschlanders in the audience Rauchbier translates to Smoked Beer, a style that traces 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. Fuels used for drying barley included coal, straw, or wood. While coal was the cheapest, brewmasters disliked the soot and nasty flavours imparted to the barley, so low-smoke beechwood was the preferred fuel for drying barley, and is still used today to produce smoked malt for Rauchbiers.
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 handful of craft brewers in Canada producing this style for the Canadian market, and typically only as one-off seasonal brews. Just prior to the COVID era, New Brunswick’s own Moosehead Brewery, the last remaining national brewer that is still Canadian-owned, put out a small one-off batch of Rauchbier that somehow made its way to Alberta, and I cleaned out my local booze merchant of their entire stock.
Closer to home, Brauerie Fahr is run by a German brewmaster of tremendous renown, and in those carefree pre-pandemic days, I made many a day trip to Turner Valley to enjoy their wares in the tap room, conveniently located just a block away from the Eau Claire Distillery tap room. When your regular drinking companions get vaccinated, I heartily recommend a tap room tour of Turner Valley.
The Rauchbier from Brauerie Fahr poured chestnut-brown into my glass, with barely a hint of head on the glass. Aromas on the nose were of a BBQ smokehouse, which got my palate watering for a brisket to be washed down with the beer. The flavours were of smoked oysters around a campfire, with plenty of complexity from the hefty malt bill. Hop bitterness was faintly detectable in the background, but only to balance the beer to prevent it from tasting sweet.
The first sip reminded me of a vacation to Düsseldorf many years ago, where I sipped Rauchbier while nibbling a salted soft pretzel in a centuries-old brewery in the old town square beside the train station. International travel seems but a far-off dream at this point, but perhaps I shall one day sample the brews of faraway lands. Until then, the brews of not-so-far-away Turner Valley will suffice, as I can close my eyes and pretend to be in Germany.
The Fahr Rauch can be found at your local well-stocked booze merchant, but only for a limited time, so look for it today!