Schlenkerla in Bamberg, Germany makes what is probably the most famous smoked beer, or rauchbier, in the world. Recently they started selling it in the US, so I was able to get a bottle at my local Spec’s. On the same shelf was another rauchbier, but it came from just down the road in Conroe, Texas. Southern Star Brewery has been operating in Conroe, just north of Houston, since 2007. Their first foray into smoked beer was a smoked porter in 2009. This latest version, in their Ancestry Series, is “Smoked Lager in the style popular in the Franconia Region of Germany around the city of Bamberg.” I figured I might as well taste it alongside the Bamberg original.
I didn’t detect much smoke on the nose, and the first sip provided noting more. It was a light beer with some sour and bitter notes. What smoke I did detect was probably because it said “Rauchbier” on the label. If this had just been handed to me, I don’t think I would have guessed that it was smoked. Schlenkerla makes several smoked beers. The Märzen style is their classic version, while this bottle of Urbock is a more robust recipe. It was rich, a bit sweet, and a lot smoky. Despite its deep color it wasn’t heavy and went quite well with the smoked beef ribs I was consuming alongside it. Going back to the Southern Star version, I found it muted and pretty dull in comparison. The bold flavor of the Schlenkerla certainly has something to do with that, but for two beers made in a similar style, there just wasn’t any comparison. Sometimes you just have to stick with the original.