67. This Newsletter Is on Fire: Celebrating Smoked Beer
Rauchbier appreciation; you hate to see it re: more BrewDog bars; plus tarot for promising new relationships.
Are You Celebrating #RauchbierMonth?
We’re almost at the end of Rauchbier Month (spearheaded by Dovetail Brewery’s Jenny Pfäfflin), which is not to say we’re almost at the end of when you should drink rauchbier, but that we’re almost at the end of the month designated to really shout extra loud about why rauchbier is great and hopefully encourage more people to get into it. (By the way, I’m following Dovetail’s approach and considering any smoked-malt beer a rauchbier in this conversation.) So, I need you to take a moment and really look within. Have you been celebrating Rauchbier Month with enough passion and dedication? Or, could you really be doing more when it comes to smoked beer consumption?
Rauchbier is divisive, I know. Everyone’s palates are different, and to some people, smoked beer is just too meaty and I sure can see how that would be unappealing. But, I’m definitely seeing more smoked beers on more tap lists. To me, that feels really encouraging, not just because I do happen to want smoked beer all the time, but because it really is a sign of how craft beer is opening back up in terms of variety. That trusty old pendulum swings again—very few breweries and even fewer beer bars are going as hard across the board on hazy IPAs. People are experiencing fatigue and want variety and discovery, innovation and time-honored tradition. They want to embrace the styles that made them fall in love with beer, try fresh ingredients, explore new methods, and sip beers that behold centuries of history. You don’t have to drink rauchbier to be happy it’s on the menu for folks like me, just like I don’t have to drink a wild ale to be happy it’s on the menu for you.
If you do enjoy a smoky little beer treat, I want to know what you’ve been drinking! Obviously, you can’t go wrong with Schlenkerla, but what about more recent iterations? I’m definitely pining for Dovetail and feeling nostalgic for a year ago when I was in Chicago. I also miss the Smoke Wheat Everyday grodziskie I had at Barewolf Brewing in Amesbury, Massachusetts earlier in September. Just this past weekend, I had the magical experience of stumbling upon a brewery I’d never heard of on the way to a weekend trip in New Hope, Pennsylvania—Readington Brewery in Readington Township, New Jersey is a picturesque brewery and hop farm (and currently a pumpkin farm, too) with an absolutely killer rauchbier. The next day, I visited Neshaminy Creek’s New Hope taproom with the hopes they’d have their absolutely perfect rauchbier Croydon Is Burning in cans—they did and they had it on draft, too. I never have luck this good. Oh and one of my absolute favorites is Fumé, a rauchbier with peat-smoked malt, brown sugar, and roasted barley from Montclair Brewery.
There was also a memorable smoked dark lager, SchwarzenRauch, at Able Baker in Vegas. Oh, and of course, Robyn G. Weise’s incredible Windrush at Wild East Brewing, a smoked helles-style lager with jerk spices. I’m on the hunt for more, so share your favorites in the comments.
We’re Not Getting a Break from BrewDog Any Time Soon
It’s tempting to replace an entire paragraph of commentary on this with just one, long, absolutely exhausted sigh. I know the two are not related, but it feels like news that BrewDog’s Vegas location is close to opening and that an Atlanta outpost just opened, as well, feels like it’s riding the tailwinds of James Watt’s victory in his lawsuit against Emili Ziem for harassment and fraud. You hate to think he’s feeling like things are really turning around, don’t you? That he’s enjoying some smug satisfaction because newspapers are reporting on the one instance in which he may have been deceived, and surely that supports his claims that every person who’s ever had a negative thing to say about him and/or BrewDog is also a con artist, and anyway onward and upward with BrewDog’s United States presence!
Perhaps more maddening to consider is that BrewDog stands to do not so shabbily in Vegas. Its location is removed geographically and even more so culturally from two opposing but perhaps equally sought after spheres of drinking culture in Las Vegas, sophisticated cocktail dens and gritty dives. It’s in a spot where tourists trudge, their feet fatigued by walking the length of the Strip and their wallets fatigued by the captive-audience pricing that lines it. This especially includes one of the most curious kinds of Vegas tourist, which is the one who brings their children. The cheap familiarity of a place like Panda Express or Del Taco feels like an oasis, and BrewDog fits right in: it’s craft beer, so they’ll feel like it’s something a little fun and special, but it won’t cause sticker shock and they can bring their kids. The majority of these people won’t fall under the very small umbrella (more a parasol, really) of dedicated, in-the-know craft beer drinkers who stay on top of the unsettling BrewDog news and withhold their support and dollars accordingly. The majority of these people don’t know and don’t care—some combination of that, really, as there are presumably also people in this set who wouldn’t care even if they did know. See my very scientific chart:
I more wonder how BrewDog Atlanta will fare. That’s not to imply there aren’t plenty more beer drinkers, both locals and visitors, who will just see a recognizable name in what they favorably consider craft beer and figure the bar is worth checking out, in every city that’s not Vegas, too. Again, these people are the majority. But—perhaps I’m being optimistic—I can’t help but think a town like Atlanta has an even slightly larger contingency of more clued-in craft beer drinkers. They like supporting local, and they’ve got plenty of great breweries where they can do that, and maybe they’ve heard a vague thing or two about how BrewDog treats its people like shit and/or one of its founders is a narcissistic cartoon character. So, why bother? It made me flinch to see BrewDog included the likes of Halfway Crooks and New Realm in its press release announcing the Atlanta bar opening, as if BrewDog has had any role at all in building Atlanta’s craft beer scene, plays into the ethos of these breweries, or has gotten a friendly and enthusiastic welcome from them.
A contest to win a trip to BrewDog Las Vegas for the first guests visiting Atlanta’s location links the two openings and frankly that makes sense. We can’t stop casual beer drinkers from rolling up for some Elvis Juice, can we? I mean, if we can, lmk, because I’m tired of talking about BrewDog and would love to not have to ever again—and much, much more importantly, I’m sure many past and present employees whose lives have been negatively impacted by BrewDog to varying degrees of severity would love to never hear about this shit show again.
This week, I pulled the Two of Cups.
Cups is the sign of love, emotions, and relationships, and the Two of Cups in particular speaks to love and partnership. There’s also an element of attraction here, and Two of Cups often comes up around new love, but it can really pertain to any partnership—basically, two people are coming together, it’s in the early stages, and it’s a really auspicious start. Both parties have shared values and mutual respect, and are embarking on a romantic relationship, friendship, or business partnership built on trust, unconditional love, boundaries, support—all of the good things that could be applicable depending on, again, whether it’s romantic, platonic, or work-related.
This card is pretty simple. It’s basically telling you to lean into this relationship—it’s good for both of you, it will fulfill you, it will yield good things. The outlook for this relationship’s future is bright, long-term. It will bring you happiness and help keep you afloat in dark times, and will weather tough spots. Make that leaning in active, too—really think about how you can best support your partner, which does absolutely include thinking about how you can best take care of yourself, too. Make sure to keep lines of communication open between you and this person, and let yourself really enjoy this time.
Love, new love, fresh starts, it all feels very springy even if we’re inching toward winter. It makes me think of Jackalope Brewing Company’s Lovebird, a wheat ale with strawberries and raspberries that’s sweet but tart and bright and invigorating—absolutely perfect for this tarot card, and also still available just til the end of this month.
This Week’s Boozy Media Rec
I’m catching up on some Pellicle stories—as they’re always ones you want to be able to sit with—and have to pass along some love for this one from Will Hawkes: “Sie Lieben Auch in Schlechten Tagen — Giesinger Bräu in Munich, Germany.” I will admit my initial excitement over seeing this title was about immediately understanding what it says (only two years of German lessons to get here, folks) but wow, this is a fascinating story. The world of German brewing is so tightly beholden to tradition, which can either block creativity (which feels like biting your nose to spite your face) or foster it, for certain brewers dedicated and resourceful enough. That tradition can make beautiful things and also make life harder for people making beautiful things, you know? Anyway, get into it!
Ex-BEER-ience of the Week
Well, a lot of this newsletter is about what a good beer week it’s been—smoked beer!—but I’d be remiss to also not shout out that Wild East Brewing celebrated its second “grandiversary” this past weekend, a sort of hybrid opening and grand opening anniversary considering how they rolled out in the middle of the pandemic’s first year. Congratulations, Wild East! Thank you for making some of my all-time favorite beer, for creating such wonderful iterations of traditional styles, and for having a taproom that’s always a welcoming hang.
Until next week, here’s Darby being a basic fall gal.