Over at Details, beer writer Josh Bernstein has named his six favorite smoked beers, with choices varying in ABV and the degree to which they hit common notes of chocolate, smoke, and coffee.

Smoked beers are becoming more and more popular among craft brewers, but they definitely take some getting used to. If you’re new to the game, we’d suggest starting with Aecht Schlenkerla Helles out of Bamberg, Germany. As Bernstein notes, it’s a “lighter, more approachable take” on the brewery’s signature rauchbier, with just “a wisp of smoke is supplied by the house yeast strain.”

It’s also a good starting point because Bamberg is the spiritual home of the smoked beer, and it’s good to be grounded in the classics before moving onto experimental renditions. Many other breweries source their smoked malts from the German city, including Surley Brewing in Minnesota and HaandBryggeriet in Norway.

Once you dig into the category, you’ll find that there’s a diverse range of aromas and flavors—some beers will make you think you’re drinking a pint of barbecue, while others are more subtle. After you make your way through Bernstein’s list, you might want to try the medal winners in the “Smoke Beer” category from this year’s Great American Beer Festival:

  • Gold: Bambastic, Fort Collins Brewery (CO)
  • Silver: Rauchtoberfest, Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant (PA)
  • Bronze: Smoke & Dagger, Jack’s Abby Brewing (MA)

[via Details]