The Session #26: Smoke ’em if you got ’em

It’s the first Friday of the month, which means it’s time for The Session! Bloggers around the web all virtually get together and write about a common beer topic, and this month’s hosting honors fall to Lew Bryson. He’s selected a great theme: Smoked beer.

There may be more smoked beers than are dreamed of in your philosophy, Horatio; it’s not just rauchbier lagers from Franconia. Within the last year, I’ve had a strange smoked wheat beer, light and tart, that local brewers insisted was a re-creation of a Polish grodziski beer; a lichtenhainer, another light smoked wheat beer; several smoked porters; the odd Schlenkerla unsmoked helles that tastes pretty damned smokey; and, yeah, several types of smoked lagers. You’ve got three weeks, is what I’m saying: go find a smoked beer.

Because I’m not going to tell you that you have to like them, how you have to drink them, or whether you can have an expensive one or where it has to be from. But I do insist that if you blog on this Session, that you drink a smoked beer that day.

I love smoked beers, even though I’ve only had a handful, and being on the west coast of the U.S.—in Oregon no less—the beer that immediately came to mind was Alaskan Brewing’s Smoked Porter, and I knew it was going to be the one I wrote about.

Alaskan Smoked Porter was perhaps the first American commercially-brewed smoked beer. Introduced in 1988, the beer has gone on to be the winner of the most medals of any beer at the Great American Beer Festival and can be considered a prototype for the American smoked beers that followed. The brewery vintage-dates the batch each year, and while the alcohol content isn’t overly high (6.5% by volume), this is a beer that by its nature ages well.

To my mind (if you can’t tell), this is the pre-eminent American smoked beer.

I would love to do a vertical tasting of this sometime—read my 2007 review of a 2005 bottle to get an idea of how it ages—but lacking any vintaged bottles, I picked up a bottle of 2008 to write up for today’s Session.

Appearance: Deep, deep ruby red when held to the light, very dark brown-black otherwise. Head is deep, dense, and creamy, tan in color.

Smell: Mellow and delicious smoked meat character—like a smokehouse. Not harsh at all, with a sweet dark undercurrent. Smoke is oily and dry and mouth-watering.

Taste: Intense smoky flavor—standing over a campfire without the unpleasantness of a face full of actual smoke. It’s a perfect blend with the dark beer it’s built upon—a top-notch porter, very smooth and a touch sweet, it seems to pull much of its roasty notes from the smoke. It’s a perfect pairing, and very, very delicious—think smoked salmon paired with very dark bittersweet chocolate. It sounds weird at first, but tastes really good.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, leaning towards full and chewy, with an incredibly smooth (almost oily) profile. Finishes nicely dry and smoky.

Overall: This is an American classic, a world-class porter and smoke beer. Deeply complex and yet deceptively simple, extraordinarily well-balanced, quite simply an amazing beer.

On BeerAdvocate, it scores an overall grade of A-. On RateBeer, it scores 3.9 out of 5, and is in their 98% percentile.

Alaskan Smoked Porter 2008