Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock


Review Date 7/25/2006   Last Updated 6/6/2020  By John Staradumsky

I don’t smoke. Never have, never will. But sometimes, my beer does. That may not seem to make much sense, unless you’ve enjoyed one of the truly wonderful smoked beers of Franconia, Germany. Then you know exactly what I’m talking about. Because this is what beer used to taste like. And Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Ur-Bock really rocks with the best of them.

A little history
As we all know, beer is made from barley malt. Malt is barley that has been germinated to allow for the conversion of starches in the grain to sugars that can be fermented into alcohol and carbon dioxide. At some point, the germination must be stopped, and this is done by kilning, basically toasting or roasting the grain. This has the benefit of adding color and flavors that will be represented in the final product.

Centuries ago, kilning was not so perfect an art as it is today, and malt might be kilned over an open fire. The smoke from the wood would permeate the grain, and infuse it with a dry smoky character that would end up in your beer.

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Today, smoked beers are a rare breed indeed. The Germans make the best of them, and you can get them here in America thanks to the Schlenkerla brewery. Smoked over beechwood fires (not aged over a few beechwood chips as Budweiser is), you really can taste the difference.

Renowned English beer writer Michael Jackson once said that the locals in Franconia claim it takes several glasses before you get to like the stuff. Jackson thinks this is a sneaky way to increase sales, and claims he loved it the first time he tried it. I’m with Michael on that one.

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Ur-Bock pours to a dark reddish mahogany color with a light but creamy tan head formation. As I drink and the liquid descends down the glass, a fine layer of Brussels lace clings to the sides of the glass. But I’m getting ahead of myself, of course. The first thing I do is take a sniff.

And oh, the delightfully smoky aromas that waft through the air up to my nose. The rich hickory notes are very strong and quite pungent, and I allow my olfactory senses to bask in the glory that is Schlenkerla for some time before I finally take a sip. Yes, I am a dedicated smoked beer lover.

Once you take a sip, you’ll find a base beer that is a little nutty, with notes of chocolate and sweet sticky malt. They are most apparent at the very beginning of your sip, but are soon drowned out by the intense, slightly bitter and astringent smoke flavors. Hickory smoked bacon or ham is what I immediately call to mind, and I’m reminded of green olives as well. The finish is smoky-bitter and makes the beer very drinkable.

If you’ve enjoyed the original Schlenkerla Marzen beer, you’ll find this a bigger cousin. The malt has been ratcheted up, but so has the smokiness (more smoked malt, more smoke flavor). Schlenkerla also does a Smoked Weizen worth trying. Of the three, I like the Ur-Bock best. It’s not for everyone, but for those in the know, it’s a smokin’ beer indeed. If you’re adventurous, I can’t recommend this wonderful brew and style enough to you.

Update 6/6/2020: Enjoyed a bottle of this glorious rauchbock this evening. It is as wonderfully malty and smoky as ever, and was declared champion beer of the night, no small feat considering how good the Enegren Baltic Maple Porter that came before it was. Uber malty and so smoky with acrid smoky hickory notes and those green olives I always get. A steal at $4.99 the half liter bottle from Total Wine.

Schlenkerla says:

Ein vollmundiger, herber Rauchbock zur Bamberger Starkbierzeit im Herbst (Bockanstich im Oktober). Er wird bereits im Sommer eingebraut und reift monatelang in den historischen Schlenkerla Felsenkellern unter dem Stephansberg. Direkt im Schlenkerla wird er traditionsgemäß frisch vom Holzfass ausgeschänkt.

From the label:

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock is the complex sibling of the classic Maerzen smokebeer. Exactly like the classic, all its barley malts are kilned and smoked by burning beechwood logs in the Schlenkerla maltings. Its higher smokemalt concentration and the longer maturation in the 14th century beer cellars underneath Bamberg create a taste profile of most intense smokiness beautifully balanced with deep malt sweetness.


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