by Brennen Jensen
Last fall I crossed a biggie off my global beer bucket list by visiting Bamberg, Germany and drinking Schlenkerla rauchbier at its 15th century home pub. Rauchbier, German for “smoke beer,” tastes a bit like bacon with a smoky taste derived from the use of malt dried over open hardwood fires. (All beers, to some degree, used to have a smoky taste prior to the development of modern kilning techniques.) Their Original Smoke Beer, Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, consistently ranks as “exceptional” on Beer Advocate and the late drinks writer Michael Jackson put it on his short list of “world classics.” To drink it out of a bottle in Baltimore is a pleasure; to enjoy it gravity fed from a wooden barrel on the streets of a charming Bavarian town (they have a walk-up beer window) with fellow smoke-heads from the around the world—wunderbar!
So, when I heard a new brewery in Middle River had a bacon beer on tap, I leapt at the chance to see if it might capture some rauchbier goodness. (Union Craft has made a tasty rauchbier but it’s not too popular a style over here.) Poole’s Island Brewing opened in March in an office park off Route 43. While such a setting might not sound enticing, it’s actually a handsome place with roll up garage-style windows overlooking some woods and a patio area. It’s named for and island near the mouth of the Gunpowder that’s home to the Bay’s oldest standing lighthouse. An outline of the island decorates the brewery ceiling.
The brewery employs one of those self-serve tap walls and I headed straight for the bacon-powered Schweinheitsgebot—a wink-wink play on Reinheitsgebot, the centuries old Bavarian law mandating that beer be made only with water, barley, hops, and yeast.
Well, it didn’t taste like a rauchbier. The smoke was hard to discern and the dominate taste of the rather malty beer was maple, perhaps from the wood used to smoke the bacon. It was tasty, it just didn’t whisk me back to Bamberg. I was planning a one-and-done visit as it was a Sunday and I had tons of yard work to get back to but, by chance, I ended up talking with head brewer, Patrick Jones. (Working hard on a weekend.) The Tennessee native has been brewing for some two decades and Maryland is the fifth state where he’s manned the kettles. (His last job was at Byway Brewing in Hammond, Indiana in greater Chicagoland.)
He expressed a reverence for brewing traditions and beer-flavored beer and I got a clear sense that when he wants to take brews in bold, new flavor directions he does so respectfully, not in a gimmicky kinda way. (His bacon beer still tasted like beer.) I sampled a couple of other offerings: The Squeeze hazy pale brought a bushel-basket of grapefruit flavor to the mouth party
while clocking in at only 5.5% ABV and his Nightmarsh milk stout had balanced sweet depth with only 5% ABV. Good stuff, and only available at the brewery for the foreseeable future. I’ll be back.