I love smoked beers, and have very few memories of meeting ones I didn't like. From my first whiff of Craft Smoked Lager to establishing Schlenkerla Märzen as a regular, the past few years have been a greasy, bacon-flavoured, slippery slope all the way to smoke addiction for me.
There aren't too many rauchbiers available on a regular basis in Ireland. The magnificent Imperial from Messrs Maguire is the only home-grown one I've ever encountered, and it was a one-off (though an 18-month-old keg of it is due to be tapped at the Franciscan Well Easter Festival next week -- anything could happen). So I had a minor crisis when Lew picked smoked beers as the theme for April's Session. It took me a couple of days to remember there was an unconsumed rauchbier in my stash -- a Mikkeller I picked up on my last visit to Copenhagen. I had been aging it, but what the hell: any excuse to drink a smoked beer. Was some Danish bacon on the cards?
No, as it happened. Barrel Aged Smoke a Ciggy is a beer very much on the extreme side of the house. The nose doesn't really hint at what lies beneath, offering a double IPA warm hoppiness with just a mild earthiness from the wood and smoke. On tasting, the massively heavy, thick body with its mouth-coating texture could pass for even stronger than the 11.5% ABV, and there's no room for any fresh meaty rauchmalz flavours. Instead, there's a super-concentrated smokiness adding a spicy new dimension to vanilla wood notes and the sort of massive hop bittering I associate with an American barley wine.
Basically, this is phenols a-go-go, and not the sort of beer for anyone who cares about balance or subtlety in what they drink. I'm no anti-extremist, but even I found it tough going and I'm not sure I enjoyed the hour or so it took me to get through 25cl. I think quaffable thirst-quenching smokers are much more my bag. It's still early, but there's a Schlenkerla in the fridge for me when I get home.
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