Bacon beers may seem a delicious novelty, but until the 19th century all beers had a meaty taste to them. Barley, the grain that gives beer its alcohol and much of the flavor, was dried over open flames so a bacon-like smoke infusion was unavoidable. As brewers switched to sans-smoke grains, Germany's Schlenkerla brewery held out, and we have them to thank for keeping rauchbier (smoked beer) alive. The amber marzen (a.k.a. Oktoberfest) style is the most common form of rauchbier, but the smoked grains can be added to any style of beer to make it a bacony wonder.
And yes, Schlenkerla knows its beer taste like bacon. Brewmaster Matthias Trum says, "Though I prefer to say 'bacon tastes like smoked beer,' … smoked beer was there first."
Beer Geek Bacon by Mikkeller
Mikkeller's Beer Geek Bacon is the extra smoky version of the Danish brewer's excellent Beer Geek Breakfast. It's one of the many twists on the strong coffee stout, alongside kopi luwak coffee infusions and aging in Scotch barrels. Beer Geek Bacon drops big meaty grains on top of the creamy, mocha stout.
Ashes from the Grave by Monkey Paw Brewing
The small San Diego brewery Monkey Paw partnered with its bigger neighbor, AleSmith, to create this award-winning smoked brown ale. Among its accolades, the bacon-esque brew recently grabbed a gold medal for Smoked Beer at the biennial World Beer Cup, one of the most prestigious competitions for brewers.
Scarlet Fire Rauchbier by Victory Brewing
Victory Brewing was founded by two German-trained brewers in the 1980s—a rarity at the time—and the Pennsylvania brewery has made its name on German-inspired brews like Prima Pils. Its Scarlet Fire honors the original rauchbiers (like Schlenkerla) with a huge, smoky aftertaste. Look for it in their brewery taproom.
Alaskan Smoked Porter by Alaskan Brewing
Germany's Schlenkerla may have had a several-centuries head start, but it was the Alaskan Smoked Porter that introduced rauchbier to American craft beer. Alaskan Brewing uses local alderwood to smoke the barley, and the bacon is more subtle, thanks to the dark, heavily roasted malts.
Smoked Märzen by 49th State Brewing Co
This amplified tribute to the rauchbiers of Germany kicks the alcohol up to 7.2 percent for a heady, bacon-wrapped brew that you won't want to put down. Judges at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival agreed, awarding the Alaskan brewery the top prize in the Smoked Beer category.
Norwegian Wood by HaandBryggeriet
Norwegian brewery HaandBryggeriet recreates (and no doubt improves upon) the old smoky ales of Scandinavian farmers. Because Norway can't grow hops, juniper branches and berries were used to bitter and flavor the beer, giving you more of a floral bacon character.
Maple Bacon Coffee Porter by Funky Buddha Brewery
This rich, velvety brew packs most of breakfast into a single bottle without tasting like a breakfast smoothie gone awry. Florida's Funky Buddha expertly layers the roasted coffee, syrup, and smoky flavors into a big satisfying porter that'd feel at home next to a stack of pancakes.
Rauch Ür Bock by Caldera Brewing
Caldera made its meaty Rauch Ür Bock with an American twist: blending German beechwood-smoked malts with cherrywood-smoked malt from Wisconsin. The cherrywood adds a touch of fruit character to the strong amber lager, but the bacon and campfire dominate this Oregon brew.
Marzen by Aecht Schlenkerla
Aecht Schlenkerla from Bamberg, Germany, sets the modern standard for smoked beers. The brewery, which records can trace back to 1405, still smokes its own barley over beechwood logs for use in its Marzen, Urbock, and Weisse. While all three are among the most bacon-heavy brews you can buy, the Marzen (essentially an Oktoberfest lager) is the original rauchbier.
Smoke & Dagger by Jack's Abby Brewing
Tucked away in the sleepy Boston suburb of Framingham, Jack's Abby brews only lagers — your cold-fermented pilsners, Oktoberfests, bocks. This smoky black lager, called a schwarzbier in Germany, might remind you of a porter for the roasted cocoa flavor, but the crisp finish is the trademark of a great lager. Following German tradition, Jack's Abby uses a portion of beechwood-smoked malts for its meaty character. Next time you're in Boston, keep an eye out for the brewery's limited-release Fire in the Ham, a close replica of an original rauchbier.