DRAFT PICKS: Smokin’ smooth

One of the beers reviewed today is a smoky Imperial Stout.

A lot of beer lovers enjoy a touch of ‘smoke’ in their brews. Many do not.

Smokiness in beer is infused in the brewing process. It isn’t that someone pours some ‘liquid smoke’ in at some stage. 

It all begins with the roasting of malting grains.

In general terms (and not always so) malted barleys are dried over an open flame giving the beer a distinctive smokiness which can actually change flavor depending on the type of flame being generated, (just as with good barbecue).

Early German brewers pretty much perfected the style and process and called the brews Rauchbiers.

Real beer purists, (Not me!!! I’ll never be a “purist”!), love smoked beers out of the Bamberg area in Germany.

In the most simple of explanations, when you dry malts over an open flame the malted grains themselves absorb the smoke and then pass this smokiness into the brew.

Today, most malts are oven, or kiln dried. The dry roasting or drying lets the malts themselves be more expressive - without ‘external’ smokiness.

With the industrialization of brewing, smoky qualities in beer have become more and more rare. There actually needs to be a defined goal before someone sets out to create a smoked porter or stout.

In most beers — lagers and ales - there is absolutely no smokiness since kiln and oven drying simply doesn’t lend itself to the generation of any kind of smoke in the process.

Still, brewers today recognize the unique quality of beer that is produced in the open flame process and many, many are at least trying to produce one example of this once common flavoring.

Our friends at Beer Advocate have created a list of some of the most popular smoked beers. They include:

  • Smoked Porter - Stone Brewing Co.
  • Smoked Porter - Vanilla Bean - Stone Brewing Co.
  • Alaskan Smoked Porter - Alaskan Brewing Co.
  • White Rajah - The Brew Kettle Taproom & Smokehouse
  • Dark Horse Fore Smoked Stout - Dark Horse Brewing Company
  • Smoke - Surly Brewing Company
  • Smoke & Dagger - Jack’s Abby Brewing
  • Smoke Jumper Smoked Imperial Porter - Left Hand Brewing Company

There are many more, and many are locally available. 

It might be fun to do a comparison tasting of smoked beers and try to discern the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle differences.


Evil Twin Ashtray Heart Evil Twin Brewing Kobenhavn, Denmark

Ashtray Heart has something of an off—putting name — if you are not used to the occasional goofiness of brew namers and labelers.

Still, at first sip you might say “Ahhhhhhhhhhhh, I get it ...”

The Evil Twin people labels this on the bottle as a “Smoked Imperial Stout.”

It is.

Ashtray pours a thick, murky dark brown — smooth, languid, tempting and mysterious.

There is a smack of chocolate at first nose — both sweet, and the rich dark chocolate grandma used to bake with. Ashtray is simply screaming maltiness.

At first wash, the smokiness comes through strong and expressive. The smoke makes everything else — the sweet—ish chocolate and coffee tones — seem even more tasteful.

This is an intense brew. Not necessarily for the faint of heart, but not in an aggressive way.

Ashtray is well designed. It’s a great example of what creative minds are doing in the brewing industry today.

It has a well hidden kick, so don’t be deceived by the smooth, creamy mouthfeel. This is one of the brews that can sucker punch you if you get too frisky with one or two of them.

Ashtray is wonderful stuff.

‘Nuff said.

O’Hara’s Leann Follain Carlow brewing co. Bagnelstown, Ireland

Let’s start out agreeing this needs to be well chilled.

Some brews can certainly be taken at cellar temp and others need to be more carefully cooled.

I think Leann Follain needs to be refrigerated properly in order to more effectively pull out the complex and hidden tones and flavors.

This is a rich, deep dark brown beer that pours almost black and offers up a delicious light beige head of foam.

At first nose, the richness of the malts is enthusiastically expressed. There is a hearty, hefty grain aroma that leads into an exciting complexity of smells and, later, tastes. Tucked away in the mix are hints of vanilla, and certainly a sharp blast of cocoa.

The first sip is exciting. Leann is surely a stout, and certainly dry.

My kind of beer!

On tasting, one is first met with a demonstrative blend of coffee and chocolate flavors. Not sweet by a long shot. Sharp. A smidge sour. Rather heavy but still creamy ...almost velvet.

The hops lend just a hint of sharp herbal bite.

This is a brew with a beefy malt list and a kick of roast taste that lingers.

If you love Irish or Russian stouts, you really need to try this one out.

Delicious. Flavorful and flavor filled. Very, very dignified and satisfying.