In describing Franconia, Michael Jackson wrote in his Pocket Guide to Beer that "this more quietly quirky beer region is a pleasure almost hidden among the beechwood forest ridges that form its boundaries." As it happened, my first taste of what may be the quintessentially quirky German brew from this part of the country also occurred at a somewhat hidden location, namely a small wurst and bierhaus called Lederhosen in Manhattan's West Village.
As I'd already sampled most of the draft selection on prior visits, I decided to order from their more extensive list of bottled beers this time. Feeling adventurous, I chose the Original Schlenkerla Smokebeer. For six generations the Trum family of Bamberg has smoked barley malt over beechwood fires and recommend drinking their specialty "slowly with relish, but steadily and purposefully." In my opinion, you simply won't come across better advice for how to enjoy this full-bodied, dry märzen. It pours with a thick, tan head and immediately hits you with aromas of roasted malt and peppery woodsmoke. To be honest, it reminded me of a smoked Gouda... in a good way of course. As for the taste, the smokiness again dominated, but dark chocolate and a very slight sweetness can be detected as well. The finish is long and satisfying.
In short, there isn't another rauchbier I've had with as much character and complexity of flavor—it's unlike anything I've tried before. I savored every mouthful and seriously considered ordering a second bottle before settling on a Köstritzer black lager instead. Plus, now that I've sampled a Schlenkerla, I can say without hesitation that it practically demands a grilled, sauerkraut-topped kielbasa, or better yet, a visit to Upper Franconia.