Ben Stange on June 1, 2016 1 Comment Summer is the season for great barbecue, and nothing goes with slow smoked meat like a well made rauchbier. The smoke flavors contributed by the malts in this style of beer make an excellent companion to meat cooked over a fire. So, to celebrate the summer season and the glory of great barbecue, here are some great tips for brewing your own smoked beers. And down at the bottom, we even include my favorite recipe for brewing your own Rauchbier at home. It’s okay to cheat Traditionally, rauchbiers are lagers, and it can be a challenge for some brewers to make lagers in the warmer months. Especially for brewers that do not have a spare refrigerator or freezer that is needed for lagering. To make a “cheater” version of a rauchbier, substitute a very clean fermenting ale yeast, such as WLP001, Wyeast 1056, or Fermentis SafAle US-05. Ferment it as cold as the yeast will allow, as this will reduce flavor contributions from the yeast. It won’t be a true “Rauchbier” by any stretch, but if anyone gives you any grief, you can just call it a smoked pale ale. Alternately, forego the Rauchbier entirely and brew yourself a good smoked porter. They also go very well with barbecue, and are easier to ferment, since they are ales. It’s not always okay to cheat When adding smoke flavor to beer, never use liquid smoke. It might seem like a reasonable substitute for smoked malt, but while I have met several brewers online who claim to have had success with it, I have never tasted a smoked beer made with smoke extract that was good. Drinkable, maybe, but not good. Liquid smoke tends towards acrid bitterness and can contain other compounds that make beer taste more like band-aids than you would want. So I would strongly recommend you stay away. For similar reasons, I discourage the use use of peat-smoked malts in Rauchbier, but they can be very good in smoked porters in moderation. In general, I prefer the flavor of beechwood-smoked malt in all smoked beers, especially if I am not smoking the malt myself. Choosing the Right Malt The choice of smoked malt is also important. In using smoked malt, you essentially have three choices: You can use peat-smoked malt — If you do this, go light. Peated malt has a very acrid flavor compared to wood-smoked malt, and can be overdone very easily. Peated malt is especially appropriate in Scotch Ales, but can be used in smoked porters in moderation, as well. You can use Weyerman’s beechwood smoked malt — This is my easy option, as it is readily available. This is the malt used in Rauchbiers, but can be used in an beer style in which you would like to add some smoke flavor. You can smoke your own malt — This gives you a much wider variety of wood flavors with which you can smoke. Cherry, applewood, hickory, or any hardwood can be used. I’ve even heard of brewers smoking their malt with grapevines from local wineries. How to Smoke Your Own Malt To smoke your own malt at home, you should first moisten the malt with chlorine-free water and then smoke it over a cool fire. Your malt should be a light malt, appropriate for use as a base malt in your beer. The lighter the malt, the more the smoke flavor will be apparent. Prepare your smoker or outdoor grill for indirect heat. The fire should be for “cold smoking”, as heat can adversely affect the malt flavors, so you want to keep the temperature as cool as possible while still generating smoke. Aim for about 120° Fahrenheit. Make sure you have no glowing coals or flames, as flames will scorch your grain instead of smoking it. If you keep your grain in a fine mesh bag, you can also help prevent ashes from getting into the grain, as well. Keep the grain moistened periodically throughout the smoking process, but never make it really wet. A spray bottle of non-chlorinated water is your friend here. Whenever you open the smoker to add wood or change out the water pan, you should also spray the grain some, as well. This will help the smoke adhere to the grain. I recommend smoking the grain for about four hours at 120° Fahrenheit. This temperature can be hard to maintain on a conventional grill, and will be easier if you have an actual smoker. I use a smoker that is powered by propane, which gives me excellent control of the temperature inside. Storage Tips & Flavor Profile Once it is good and smoked, make sure the grain is very dry if you plan on storing it for long. Before brewing with it, you can get an idea of the flavor profile by making a grain “tea” from it. Use a cup of hot water and about a half cup of grain and steep it. Then, drink the tea to get an idea of the flavors it will contribute to your beer. It will be more mild in the tea than it is likely to be in your finished beer, though. Brewing Your Own Smoked Beer Once you think you are ready to brew a smoked beer, brew away. I would recommend starting with the rauchbier recipe down below, but there are plenty of great smoked beer recipes and ingredient kits online that may be more appealing to you. However, one caveat about smoked beer extract kits. They tend to rely on peat smoked malt for their flavor. You really don’t want to use more than 4 ounces of peated malt in any given recipe, so watch for its inclusion in any recipe you brew. Rauchbier Recipe (All-Grain) Recipe Specs Recipe Type All-Grain Batch Size 5 Gallons Original Gravity 1.055 OG Final Gravity 1.012 FG Efficiency 75% SRM 12.7L IBU 29 ABV 5.7% Ingredients You Will Need: 5 lbs 2-Row Malt 4.5 lbs Weyerman Smoked Malt (or home-smoked Pilsen malt) 1 pound Munich Malt 6 ounces CaraMunich Malt 4 ounces Melanoidin Malt 2 ounces Roasted Barley 6 HBU of Hallertauer hops (2 ounces at 3%AA) for 90 minutes 0.5 ounces of Hallertauer hops for 10 minutes 1 tsp Irish Moss or other fining agent Fermentis S-23 Saflager (or you can cheat with Fermentis US-05 SafAle if you do not wish to lager) Brewing Procedure: Mash for one hour at 152°F or until starch conversion is complete. Mash out at 170°F, then bring to a boil. Add first hop addition and start timer. After 75 minutes, add Irish Moss. After 5 more minutes, add second hop addition. Lagering Instructions: At flameout, whirlpool, chill to 60°F and rack to your fermenter. Pitch yeast and ferment at 48-52 degrees Fahrenheit for 3-4 weeks, then allow it to slowly ramp up to 60 degrees before cold crashing to 32-38 degrees. Let rest for 14 days at 32-38 degrees before bottling or kegging. The longer you lager, the smoother the flavor will be. The Quick & Dirty Ale Method: At flameout, whirlpool and chill to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, ferment at 68 degrees for 14 days, then bottle or keg. Once carbonation is complete, refrigerate as long as possible before consuming. Enjoy!