In earlier times, all beers without exception had a noticeable smoky flavor. While today the damp, “green” malt is processed in smoke-free hot-air kilns, it was originally dried in the hot smoke of an open wood fire in a brewery’s smoker kiln.
It was not until the introduction of smoke-free drying technology in the first half of the 19th century that Rauchbier (smoked beer) became a specialty – one that was only able to retain a faithful following in Bamberg, Germany. From around 1935 onward, the Bamberg-based Schlenkerla and Spezial breweries were the only ones that continued to brew traditional Rauchbier, each modernizing their smoker kilns in their own particular way. The traditional beer thus became a local specialty.
The unmistakable flavor of smoked foods from the smoked malt is the beer’s defining characteristic. Depending on the type of firing and resulting smoke, the flavor of the beer varies from mild to robust, with distinct notes of smoked ham.
Traditionally brewed Bamberg Rauchbier is served in the Schlenkerla brewery restaurant in Dominikerstrasse and the Spezial brewery inn in Obere Königsstrasse, as well as in the Spezialkeller, a restaurant (open year-round in recent years) that features a large beer garden above the former lager cellar of the Spezial brewery at Oberer Stephansberg. Bottled Bamberg Rauchbier is available from the brewery restaurants and from beverage retailers. Taverns not affiliated with breweries that carry specialty beers sell bottled Rauchbier, and occasionally have it on tap.