Sometimes we are our own context, meaning what you bring to a glass of beer influences what you take from it.
Rick Lyke writes about a 7-year-old bottle of Schlenkerla Urbock, his daily drink Monday, that opened with a big smoked ham nose. A fellow taster from Wisconsin taster said it was like smoked sturgeon.
Drinkers in Bamberg, Germany, where Schlenkerla beers are brewed, most associate them with meat, but in Wisconsin home to Friday evening fish fries smoke and fish makes perfect sense. The same in Alaska.
That wasn’t something Geoff and Marcy Larson of Alaskan Brewing necessarily considered when they first brewed Alaskan Smoked Porter more than 20 years ago. In fact, Geoff Larson didn’t react very well the first time a drinker told him his beer tasted like salmon. In fact he had smoked the malt that went into the beer at a fish smokery, but he had cleaned the facility obsessively in advance, fearing how fish oil might affect the beer.
“I took it inappropriately and defensively,” Larson said. Months after, talking to the late Greg Noonan who had made his own smoked porter at Vermont Pub & Brewery he began to understand just how powerful memories of smoke are.
“Greg talked about first using hickory and customers would ask if he put hickory smoked ham in the beer,” Larson said. “Then he used maple and they asked, ‘Hey, did you start throwing sausage in your beer?'”
It wasn’t salmon that drinkers noticed but the alder wood both the malt and fish were smoked over. In Southeast Alaska smoke from alder wood conjures up memories of campfires and smoked salmon. In the northeast maple smoke reminds consumers of Jimmy Dean Sausage.