M & S Smoked Ruby 4.7%, is a dark red beer, with an intriguing sweet nutty, smoky flavour, derived from the fact the malt used in the brewing process has been smoked over cherry wood. This gives an interesting twist to the classic smoked flavours normally associated with this style of beer.
The beer is brewed by Adnams of Southwold, on behalf of Marks & Spencer, and I recognised it as one I tried a couple of months ago. I liked it back then, and said at the time I would definitely buy it again, especially as there’s plenty of smoke in this beer! So to see it selling at less than a third of its original price was something I just couldn’t resist, and I ended up buying all four bottles remaining on the shelf.
They still had a couple of months shelf life remaining, so I was left wondering was this just a genuine stock clearance or had M&S bought a pup by commissioning a beer which for some people pushes towards the limits of “extreme” beer?
“Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier”, the legendary, world-classic Smoke Beer, from Bamberg in the Franconia region of northern Bavaria.
This would have been back in the late 1980’s when, for a brief glorious period, Sainsbury’s stocked the beer. Twenty years later and I found myself sitting in the centuries old Schlenkerla Tavern in Bamberg itself, enjoying a few glasses of draught Schlenkerla Rauchbier, poured straight from a wooden cask. I can’t tell you how good that beer tasted, and what a magical experience it was drinking that beer in the inner-courtyard (Schwemme), of this rustic old inn, whilst taking refuge from the intense cold of an early December day. I have returned to Bamberg on a further four occasions, and without fail have always called in for a few glasses (Seidla’s in the local dialect) of Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier.
Many other drinkers take to the beer straight away. I admit to being somewhat surprised by my son, who in the UK is a consumer of industrial lager, knocking back glass after glass of Rauchbier, as though he had been drinking it all of his life!
Beer rating sites RateBeer and Beeradvocate, both list dozens of smoked beers, with very few Franconian examples. Most appear to come either from the USA, or from Scandinavia (predominantly Denmark & Norway). Apart from the seasonal variations produced by Brauerei Heller-Trum, I have only had one beer on these rating lists, and that is Alaskan Smoked Porter. This dark 6.5% ABV beer is brewed in limited numbers each November by the Alaskan Brewing Co. who are based in Juneau; the Alaskan state capital. The beer first appeared in 1988 and was largely responsible for introducing the style to an appreciative American audience.
Perhaps British drinkers just don’t like the style, and I accept it’s not to everyone’s’ taste and certainly not for the fainthearted. The evidence certainly points to this, otherwise there would be a lot more smoked beers gracing the shelves of off-licences and supermarkets. However, keep your eyes open, as you never know when or where one of these excellent beers might crop up and as an accompaniment for roasted meats, cured meats, strong or even smoky cheese, I can’t think of anything better!