Beer that tastes like breakfast? It almost sounds too good to be true, but until relatively recently in beer-making history, it was the norm: Before the mid-1700s, barley used for brewing was dried over wood fires, and all beers tasted a little smoky as a result. Today, we may have the technology for pale, clean-tasting malt, but smoked beers are making a comeback, from Bamberg, Germany's traditional Rauchbiers to more-creative interpretations by America's best craft brewers.
These probably aren't beers you'll want to order by the pint at your local watering hole — they're a bit intense and bizarre-tasting unless you drink them with food. The good news is, they're the best possible accompaniment to smoky, slow-cooked meats like barbecued ribs, cheeses like cheddar or gouda, Chinese food (especially if it involves sesame oil, black bean sauce, or hoisin), Mexican food (especially carne asada or anything in a mole sauce), game meats, burgers, mushrooms... you get the picture. Discover how much better these foods are with smoked beer, and you'll never want to be Rauchbier-less again...my favorite might be the darkest (and most local) of the smoked beers I've had recently. Captain Lawrence Brewing Company in upstate New York makes a delicious smoked porter that smells a bit like a coffee milkshake with candied bacon in it (hey, that's not a bad idea!). It's creamy and understated with roasty chocolate notes that make grilled steak or lamb chops taste even richer.