This alderwood-smoked stunner is produced only once a year and is vintage dated. Keep it around till 2010 if you can - it ages beautifully for a decade or more, and how cool will your friends think you are to have smoked beer waiting in the wings? In addition to the creamy, opulent 2000 pictured here, which has beautiful chocolaty tones, you might be lucky enough to track down a few bottles of older vintages being hoarded by savvy retailers.
STONE SMOKED PORTER ($3 per bottle)
Stone Brewing Co., in northern San Diego County, makes a smoked beer in a style that's less aggressive than the big German bruisers. The Stone Smoked Porter is a good beer to choose to introduce yourself (or a dubious friend) to the smoked beer concept. If you think smoked beer sounds weird, start with this one and work your way toward Bamberg.
Businessman and beer-lover Greg Koch and brewer Steve Wagner founded Stone Brewing Co. in 1996, making it one of the more recent arrivals on the California craft-brew scene. Success has been phenomenal, and the fame of Stone Smoked Porter has reached beyond the brewery's cult following in Southern California.
Only a portion of the malt is smoked for the Stone Smoked Porter, giving the finished product just a hint of smokiness rather than the full-throttle effect. This one will appeal to the dark-beer lover in everyone, with lush, fruity flavors, and a delicious softness in the mouth.
Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier ($3.50 per bottle)
Bamberg is to smoked beer what Boston is to baked beans. Aecht Schlenkerla is a no-holds-barred Bamberg Rauchbier and is one of the benchmarks against which other smoked beers are evaluated. It's produced by a firm that dates back to 1678, although the house that's now the Schlenkerla Inn (where you can get these beers on tap) dates back even further, to the early 15th century. The name Schlenkerla - from schlenkern, Franconian dialect for "shuffle" - refers to one of the previous owners, who had a funny walk.