Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen


Review Date 7/8/2000   Last Updated 4/23/2014   By John Staradumsky

Smoke in your beer? That may sound rather odd to some people, but it's really quite an interesting taste experience. Smoke beers are becoming a bit more common in the United States ( some examples being Alaskan Smoked Porter, Vermont Smoked Porter, Otter Creek Hickory Switch Smoked Amber, Rogue Smoke, etc.), but they are still rather hard to find. The Germans have been brewing them for sometime however, most notably in Bamberg.

Schlenkerla is a tavern in Franconia, a region of Bavaria famous for its wonderful smoked beers. Literally, Schlenkern means to stagger, as one would perhaps after a few too many brews. The story behind this brewery’s name is that once one of the brewers walked strangely and was nicknamed Schlenkerla; the name stuck to both him and the brewery. A tavern is also run by the company that serves their delicious beechwood-smoked brews.

Rauchbier (Rauch is German for smoke) is a style that takes a little getting used to for some. Others have less trouble developing a taste for it. Michael Jackson said it best when describing the style, "I loved it the first time I tried it." My sentiments exactly. Rauchbier takes the process of kilning malt one step further and permeates the grain with pungent smoke. It provides for an intensity of flavor found in few other beer styles. The smoke is allowed to filter directly through the grain, and this actually is a leftover from the days when brewing techniques were not as advanced as they are today. All barley malt is kilned or dried to halt germination and add different character to the beer depending on the intensity and duration of that kilning. Today this is done in sealed ovens, but centuries ago the grain might have been heated in an open wood fired oven, imparting the smokiness that one will find in rauchbier.

Schlenkerla Rauchbier is a classic example of what this type of beer should taste like. This is a smoked Maerzen, and as soon as you sniff the pungent smoky nose you know you are in for a treat. Salty, hickory-like aromas assault the olfactory senses in a big way. They dominate the palate as well, barely allowing hints of smooth malt character to come through even though this is a rather firm bodied brew. Liquid smoke is a good descriptor. This beer is a natural partner to smoked Bavarian ham, smoked Vermont cheddar, and a hunk of oberlander or pumpernickel bread. Truly one of the world's most unique brews.

If you enjoy this beer, you’ll also want to try Schlenkerla’s two other smoked beers offered for sale in the U.S. market, an Ur-Bock and a Weizen.

Update 12/20/2012: I almost bought a bottle of Schlenkerla today. But then I saw the price: $8.49 for a half liter bottle at Total Wine. Could this be right? I verified, and sure enough it was correct. I know beer prices are going up and up, but this is ridiculous. I know this is a classic, but I'm taking a star off my rating due to the exorbitant new price (this beer was $2.99 a bottle just 5 years ago). A great beer to try if you haven't, but we would not rebuy it at $8.49.

Update 1/4/2013: The Schlenkerla saga continues. I got a bottle at a local Canton store, more reasonable at $4.99. It's simply amazing, so wonderfully packed with robust hickory and beechwood smokiness packed against a chewy malt body. A good reminder that this is in my opinion the best smoked beer in the world. After popping a bottle tonight I can't help but restore it to it's rightful 5 star rating.

Fair warning, the store I purchased my bottle at only had a few left, and we'll see if their price goes up when they restock. Truth be told, I'd still buy a bottle now and then at $8.49, though it would be more then than now at that price.

Update 4/23/2014: Picked up another bottle of Schlenkerla the other night at Bullocks in Woodstock, Georgia. Here, too, it was just $4.99-shame again on Total Wine. This time, too, I had a purpose-to pair with a snack of chechil, a smoky salty string cheese popular as a beer snack in parts of Russia and Ukraine. The smokiness of the Schlenkerla paired wonderfully with the smokiness of the change, and the salt just gave me an extra reason to keep on gently sipping this classic German specialty beer.

And remember, try a new beer today, and drink outside the box.

*Pricing data accurate at time of review or latest update. For reference only, based on actual price paid by reviewer.

(B)=Bottled, Canned