Texas Brew Review: Buffalo Bayou’s Smoke on the Bayou

Posted 8:56am on Saturday, May. 03, 2014

Barbecue season is upon us. Warmer weather means back yards everywhere are filled with aromas of wood and fired meats that make mouths water and neighbors jealous. Cold beer is the natural accompaniment to this national pasttime, and some craft breweries are proving that sweet, smoky smell isn’t exclusive to the stuff in the pit.

Rauchbiers and Scotch ales use smoked malt in their recipes, which can impart varying levels of smokiness to otherwise simple malt-forward beers. Much like slow-cooking a brisket, brewers will literally take semi-malted barley and smoke it over wood. Rauchbiers tend to be very smoky and can sometimes taste like bacon, or in heavy-handed creations, like licking a cooled barbecue grill. It sounds weird, but when done well, it’s magical. A classic example is best embodied by the historic German brewery Schlenkerla; and among Texas breweries, Southern Star makes a nice one.

However, for a less intensely smoked beer experience, Scotch ales or “Wee Heavys” are the way to go. The style originated in Scotland and uses peat-smoked malt just like Scotch whiskey. Some Scotch ales are lightly smoky, like Rahr & Sons’ Iron Thistle and Real Ale s Real Heavy, while some are more aggressively peaty like Rook from Austin’s Rogness Brewing. One that toes that line nicely is Smoke on the Bayou from Houston’s relatively new Buffalo Bayou.

With an apparent up-front sweetness and flavors of caramel and toffee backed up by a moderately thick body, Smoke on the Bayou almost seems like a thicker, sweeter brown ale with some qualities that start to verge into stout territory. But before all that takes over, the dryness from the smoked malt helps it finish clean. It’s an interesting experience that tests your expectations of what a darker, thicker beer should be.

It does carry a hefty 9 percent ABV, so the 22-ounce bottle is a good one to share with a few buddies while you’re waiting for the brisket to finish. Take your time, it’s meant to be taken slowly.

Quick sips

The search for Divine Reserve: Saint Arnold’s Divine Reserve Series is the grandaddy of big-deal limited releases, and its 14 th installment delivered early to middle of last week at area stores, bars and restaurants. The style changes with each release and this time around it’s a Belgian golden strong ale. Hunting down some Divine Reserve has become a bit of a tradition in Texas, so if you see some, make sure and snag it while it’s available, and look for kegs and casks of it to pop up in the coming weeks at finer establishments around the area.

National Homebrew Day: Saturday is National Homebrew Day and clubs and brewing groups around the country are brewing together to celebrate. To find a homebrew club close to you, visit homebrewersassociation . com.

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