Fujizakura Heights released their seasonal Rauch Bock not too long ago so we’ll take a look at it today, along with the Schlenkerla Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock.
Fujizakura Heights Rauch Bock (富士桜高原・ラオホボック)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 25
Pour – Very black with lots of thick foam
Aroma – Lots of smoke but not too overpowering, more malts as it warms up
Flavor – Initially smoky but also caramel malts, sweet cloves and roast and nuttiness on the finish
As a standard bockbier is essentially a stronger German malty lager, it follows that a rauch bock will be a stronger smoked beer. Bock beers are traditionally produced for consumption in the cold winter months, and therefore have higher alcohol content. This is achieved by jacking up the malt ratio, but then in order to round out the flavor they are lagered for a longer period (for up to weeks, or even months) than normal. This means that in order to release bock beers around Christmas, they have to start brewing them in October. Because in the old days brewing in the summer was prohibited to prevent infected beer, that meant that the brewing of bock beers marked the start of the brewing year, and brewers’ fiscal years were also arranged to start at October. So truly a new year beer indeed!
While originally the bock in its first incarnation was an ale, it is now almost exclusively associated with lagers. However, there are a number of different varieties of beer that use the word bock in the name – doppelbock, eisbock, weizenbock, etc., and for today’s tasting we will be trying a couple of smoked bock beers.
The Fujizakura Heights Rauch Bock is a wonderfully balanced smoked beer. While of course the smokiness is there and quite prominent, the malts are also quite present – the Rauch Bock is based on their regular Rauch (which is also a great beer), but they add twice the malts to the bill in order to up the ABV. The caramel malts add a great balance to the smokiness, and the finish is at the same time sweet and nutty. Excellent all around with lots of different flavors but none too overpowering, and as a bonus all of that is at 7% ABV!
A smoked beer like this is definitely a rare find in Japan, so pick it up if you come across it. I actually had a bit of trouble finding it, but eventually I tracked it down at the new Naka-Meguro branch of Bon Repas, which is located right around the corner from Deguchiya. The price is also quite reasonable at 520 yen so buy it if you can get it!
Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock
Package: 500mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 40
Pour – Very very dark brown, moderate carbonation
Aroma – Smoked bacon, also roasted malts, slight hops
Flavor – Smokiness, some nuttiness, but also a roast bitter finish, hops definitely present
Schlenkerla, which is located in Bamberg, has its roots as a tavern and monastery dating back to the 14th century, and of course now also houses a brewery. There’s a great history of the place on their website here, which also mentions the very un-PC origins of the brewery name. A short version: the official name of the brewery was (and still is) Heller-brau, named after one of the former owners. One of the subsequent owners, however, had a disability which affected the way he moved his limbs, and in the Franconian dialect of German this was referred to as “schlenkern”, and so people started calling the brewery Schlenkerla. The name has stuck, although one wonders if people are aware of the somewhat insensitive origins of the name.
Schlenkerla mostly makes smoked beers, and the most prominent text on the label are the words Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, which translates to Original Schlenkerla Smokebeer. They sell three varieties – a smoked Märzen, a smoked wheat beer, and a smoked bock beer, which is what we are trying today.
The Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock is, like the Fujizakura Rauch Bock, a well-balanced smoked beer. Here of course we still have the smokiness, but this time around the beer is actually quite bitter, and the hop presence is clear. The nuttiness and roasted malts are very nice as well, and everything comes together to create a wonderfully smooth package.
It makes for a very interesting comparison with the Fujizakura Heights Rauch Bock – the Fujizakura overall had great balance but stronger flavors – the malts, the caramel, the smokiness were all a bit more accentuated. In the Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock, there was great balance but achieved a bit more subtly, with a general hop bitterness providing a smooth background for the smoke and roast, with a much gentler malt presence and less sweetness.
Aecht Schlenkerla are around here and there – I found this one at Tanakaya, but I also see them at Tokyo Liquor Land occasionally. They’re pretty reasonably priced, and as local smoked beers are not as common (Fujizakura Heights notwithstanding) it’s worth tracking them down.
Personally, I find it hard to choose a winner for today’s tasting – they’re both excellent but in different ways. They both have balance and are quite complex, but the Fujizakura Heights is bolder, whereas the Aecht Shlenkerla is more subtle. You can’t go wrong with either one, and which one you enjoy more will have more to do with personal preference than anything else. Fujizakura Heights also make an excellent regular rauch, so we’ll try to pair it up soon with another local and imported example.