Smoked beer (German: Rauchbier) is a type of beer with a distinctive smoke flavour imparted by using malted barley dried over an open flame.
Drying malt over an open flame in a smoke kiln may impart a smoky character to the malt. This character may carry over to beers brewed with the smoked malt. Before the modern era, drying malted barley in direct sunlight was used in addition to drying over flames. Even though hot air kiln drying of malt, using indirect heat, did not enter into widespread usage until the industrial era, the method was known as early as the first century BC. Also, there have been various methods over the years of preparing cereal grains for brewing, including making beer from bread, so smoked beer was not universal.
Beginning in the 18th century, hot air kiln drying of malt became progressively more common and, by the mid-19th century, had become the near-universal method for drying malted grain. Since the hot air kiln method prevents any smoke from getting in touch with wet malt, a smoky flavour is not imparted to the grain, nor to the subsequent beer. As a result, smoke flavour in beer became less and less common, and eventually disappeared almost entirely from the brewing world.
Certain breweries maintained the smoked beer tradition by continuing to use malt which had been dried over open flames. The malt is dried over fires made from beechwood logs. The malt and fermenting beer are stored under the pub and brewery in a part of the catacombs of Bamberg, a maze of tunnels under the city built from the 11th century onward, which have a very stable moisture and temperature. In former times, ice was used to cool the fermenting beer tank room, the Lagerkeller. This ice was locally harvested above ground in the winter, although when the winter was too mild, ice was imported from as far away as Finland or Sweden. The beer is then filtrated to remove the opaque colour and yeast remnants, and put into oaken vats. Two brewpubs in Bamberg, Germany, Schlenkerla and Spezial, have continued this smoked beer production for more than a century. Several varieties of Rauchbier ("smoke beer" in German) are produced by these companies. Both are still in operation today, alongside seven other breweries in the same town. Since the rauchbier tradition was continuously preserved in Bamberg, the beer style is now marketed as Bamberg Rauchbier.
Due to the popularity of craft beer in recent years, industrially made, smoke-flavoured malts became available, and so the style has been attempted worldwide, including in its heartland of Franconia and Bamberg. Schlenkerla and Spezial, however, use a traditional, elaborate way of smoke malting. In 2017 Slow Food included these two Rauchbiere into their Ark of Taste.
The Brewers Association distinguishes between three variations of Bamberg-style Rauchbier: Helles , Märzen, and Bock. Each is brewed according to the underlying style, but with smoked malts replacing some or all of the mash bill.
Grodziskie or Grätzer are similar, traditional smoked beers from Poland, but made from wheat and highly carbonated, and with a perhaps older history, although they saw a period of no production in the late 1990s.
Grodziskie traditionally contain 2.7–3.7% alcohol by volume with little to no hop flavor or aroma, and medium-low to medium bitterness. Typical coloration is straw to gold.