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Herr Malzahn’s Lightning in a Bottle?

The hint of fall weather coupled with the sight of our Auburn Tigers once again taking and dominating the field has set off certain impulses and desires in your “Shug Life” columnist: I need beer, a hoodie, rock ‘n’ roll and hip hop to feel whole.

I blame it on Auburn house parties past (for more on this subject, see Hardy Gilbert’s “Backyard Valediction“), specifically, house parties in the fall with several bands playing in the living room or basement with a keg of cheap beer half-hidden in the dark coolness of the backyard. The backyard, where you fill your Dixie cup and take a deep breath. You take a moment maybe to have a quiet conversation, a connection, with another person before stepping back to the bright lights and the crowd.

To set the mood, here is a video of Auburn’s own The Quadrajets playing “Let’s Go To Outerspace.” I can feel the Schlitz being poured over my head now. Ahhhh. Enjoy:

There exists in me an unconscious need to fuel myself with beer for the grid-iron battles and the hours afterward thanks my fond memories of Auburn house shows. But the energies and freedoms that I enjoyed on the Plains are a thing of the past. I mourn their passing. But I do have a bit more funds at my disposal. Meaning, I can take the next step up from drinking from a slightly warm keg of Natural Light. Make that several leaps up from Natural Light. Ugh.

Which brings me to Sunday evening, as I experienced a fantastic beer: smoky, rich and complex. Something completely foreign to my regular beer consumption. It was eye-opening. As I sat quietly, staring into the dark brew, looking for the right words, I couldn’t help but draw a comparison to Auburn’s new offense conducted by quite possibly a football genius, Gus Malzahn, as it was fresh on my mind. This year’s Auburn team and its foreign-ness and complexity. A rich and heady brew! Something shocking, wonderful and new.

The beer? A half-liter bottle of Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier from Bamberg, Franconia, Germany. I picked up a single bottle to sample from my local beer and wine store, The Wine Source here in Baltimore.  This beer is a rauchbier, or smoked beer, and one of the finest, or so I have read.

From Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier’s Web site:

The connoisseur [Ed. note: That’s me!] drinks it slowly with relish, but steadily and purposefully. He knows, that the second “Seidla” (half-liter) tastes better than the first, and the third even better than the second. He drinks during the morning pint and during the afternoon break. He drinks it in the evenings, drinks it alone and with company, especially with company, as “Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier” makes one talkative and exuberant. It brings together the local with the stranger, as it is common in Franconia to share your table with others. Even if the brew tastes somewhat strange at the first swallow, do not stop, because soon you will realize that your thirst will not decrease and your pleasure will visibly increase.

I didn’t buy a second or third at the store. I guess I missed out on smoked beer bliss. Or a nasty headache Monday morning.

Photo by J.M. Comer
Photo by J.M. Comer

(I hope like hell that there is now a decent beer store in Auburn or the surrounding area where you fine people can get a couple and try for yourself. If not, someone needs to seriously consider opening one. Maybe you can pick some up when visiting Birmingham, Atlanta or Montgomery? Also, if you find one to your liking and it enters your pre-game ritual or you already have something and would like to share, be sure to send a message to me and/or TWER’s own Jennie Henderson, author of “Salt of the Turf.”)

But how did I find out about this wonderful beer? I received this book, “300 Beers to Try Before You Die!” by Roger Protz, from my wife as a thoughtful present last year.

I think I’ve had about 30 of the beers listed in the book so far. But this beer, sampled for the first time a day after our second win of the season over our first SEC opponent, struck me as one of the best beers I’ve ever tasted. I can’t wait to try another one.

“300 Beers” describes the brewing process and taste of Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier as so:

The brewery yard is packed with beechwood logs. Inside, there is a smokehouse where the barley malt lies on a mesh above a beechwood oven that throws up wonderful aromas reminiscent of garden fires in autumn. The copper brewhouse uses a double-decoction mashing regime. The extract is filtered in a lauter tun, then pumped to a copper brew kettle in a tiled surround where it is boiled with hops from the Hallertauer. Following seven days’ primary fermentation, the beer is stored for six to eight weeks.

The finished beer is dark chestnut in colour [Ed. note: Fancy British author with his fancy British spellings!] with an intense smoked malt aroma and palate, with dry malt in the mouth and a long and lingering finish, with herbal and smoky notes and a gentle underpinning of spicy hops.

I also found the aroma of the rauchbier to be smoky and complex. Just incredible, actually, because it smells just like a campfire but yet tastes nothing like one. How can that be? Magic? I don’t know what a “garden fire” smells like, but I thought this beer definitely holds that burning beechwood smell. This smoked beer might be my libation to enjoy by the fire or any festive occasion, like when our Tigers beat down the University of Tennessee’s Volunteers on the road. The taste finishes clean. It is smoky, yes. But it is not overpowering.

You know what else has a “long and lingering finish”? Our Tigers, starting about two minutes before halftime, lingering and piling up points all the way to the sound of the final whistle.

You know what also had a powerful odor at first but turned out to finish easy and satisfying? Auburn’s hiring of Gene Chizik.

Like this fantastic beer, I’m hoping in six to eight weeks we’ll see a polished, fine-tuned product in Chizik’s Tigers.

Although my usual swagger is still on the mend after last year, I have a feeling that one of our more boastful, ranked opponents is going to feel the full wrath of Auburn soon enough. Last Saturday’s game against Mississippi State was not the best we will see from the Tigers this year. Far from it, in fact. I just think we might march onto someone’s home field and shock the pants off ’em. (Unfortunately, that brings to mind the time I traveled down to the Plains in 2006 to see Gus Malzahn’s Arkansas Razorback offense — with Darren Darren McFadden and Felix Jones both rushing for more than 100 yards — shock our No. 2 ranked Tigers. Two 100+ yard efforts by the running backs. Sound familiar? Love him now, but damn him then!) Two wins are fine and I’m sure there will be a letdown or four on the way, but can’t you sense something greater and wonderful on the horizon?

For the first time in a while it seems that I’m seeing something crafted with a vision and a purpose. There is a branded identity for the Tigers in the works here. And we’ve got to take a few moments now to savor it. Greater challenges, and possibly greater joys, lie ahead.

About J.M. Comer

J.M. graduated from Auburn in 1998 and again in 2000 with bachelor's degrees in English and journalism. He is currently a copy editor in Washington, D.C., and lives in Baltimore, Land of Pleasant Living. If you find yourself in beautiful Baltimore, he recommends Faidley's crab cakes, a stop at Atomic Books, an O's game at Camden Yards and plenty of Natty Boh.

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