Helles Schlenkerla Lagerbier

It may come as some surprise that I’m not really too crazy about high-alcohol beers. Sure, I’ve been known to enjoy 11% coffee imperial stouts from time to time. In large part, though, I find them somewhat ponderous, especially when faced with a 22 oz bomber or 750ml bottle all to myself.

1) It’s Miami 2) it’s hot 3) I still care about my fitness. For these reasons, I often seek out lower-ABV beers, with the caveat that they have to be as full-flavored as the high-ABV beers. This is a difficult task for a brewer. It isn’t too difficult to have a big beer jammed with big flavor; that happens almost by definition. The true feat is keeping a 4% beer interesting.

Tonight I’m drinking a Helles Schlenkerla, a lager by the classic Heller-Trum out of Bamberg, Germany. This brewery is known for making seriously smoky beer (rauchbier) that often tastes like bacon or smoked salmon. This Helles lager, however, is the one beer this brewery produces that does not use smoked malt. What’s interesting here is that this beer supposedly still has a smokiness to it, but it comes from the yeast instead of smoked malt. This is known as “phenolic” character. Phenolic character can manifest as smoky, spicy, band-aid or medicinal flavors, and sometimes these flavors are considered faults in beer. In small concentrations, though, I often find that such flavors add good complexity to a beer.

The pour is rather pedestrian – it looks like any number of lagers. In fact, it’s pale yellow just like a Budweiser. It’s not as fizzy, though. Aroma….hmmm, this may sound strange, but it smells a bit like focaccia to me. Bread, rosemary, salt, extra virgin olive oil. Good crisp noble hop that I think is expressing itself as the “rosemary” I smell in there.

This is pretty much what I want out of a lager. It’s clean and snappy up front, with bread and a floral bitterness. There’s a little hint of caramel in the middle, followed by, yes, a touch of smoke, and a dash of spicy clove. Tasty. And to boot, only 4.3% ABV!

Pick this one up at Total Wine – it was there yesterday, so it should still be there now. This’ll be an excellent food partner – sausage, sauerkraut and other traditional German fare is a no-brainer. It will also work with your Memorial Day BBQ, guaranteed. Cheese? Let’s go with a smoked Gouda…though I tried a little Midnight Moon (aged goat milk cheese) with it, and the pairing worked phenomenally well. It’s tough to go too wrong here. Enjoy!

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