Don Kavanagh: A trend so hot, it's smoking

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Don Kavanagh finds a fad he can easily get on board with.

Smoked beer has been around for a long time in the form of German rauchbiers.
Smoked beer has been around for a long time in the form of German rauchbiers.

I've never been a big fan of trends and fads, no matter how exciting they may seem at the time.

Back in the early days of humanity, when I was in school, the big buzz was a new band that everyone took to with a quasi-religious fervour. I wasn't impressed by such sheep-like behaviour and made sure I cultivated a distaste for mass adoration and the particular band. It worked, and my abhorrence of U2 and their music endures to this very day, I am happy to say.

It's kind of the same with drinks. I get suspicious about the sudden rise in popularity of certain drinks or flavours at the expense of others. It doesn't make sense to me that, say, rum can be hugely popular one week and then it somehow it becomes dreadful overnight.

Trends come and go and that is what annoys me about them. I value consistency and therefore view sudden peaks in interest in certain things with scepticism.

However, not all new developments are ephemeral. Undoubted fads, like that strange urge bartenders had to make blue drinks a while back, will always come and go - but every so often you get a drinks evolution that makes you sit up and take notice.

The most recent of these for me has been the increase in the number of smoked beers. I don't just mean beers that have been infused with wood smoke, but also beers that have been given a smoky touch on the palate by the use of wood in the ageing process.

Smoked beer has been around for a long time in the form of German rauchbiers, which were made with malt dried over an open flame, imparting a smoky character.

Over here there have been quite a few examples down the years as well, but there currently seems to be a tremendous amount of choice when it comes to smoky beers. Plenty of breweries are making them and they are really worth trying.

I'm loving The Big Smoke from 8 Wired, a heady blend of rich wood smoke and chocolate and coffee flavours, but there are plenty of others I would happily recommend. Stoke's Smoky Ale (part of the Bomber range) is reliably good and readily available, as is Invercargill's Smokin' Bishop. Deep Creek's Scotch Ale gets a smoky touch from the use of whisky barrels in the ageing process, giving a lovely warmth on the back of the palate.

The Sprig and Fern brewery released a beautiful barrel-aged beer recently, and keep an eye out for a special new beer from them, presently going by the name Pearl Project. I tried some from the tank recently and it just about knocked me on by backside, so good was it. It's well worth getting a few riggers of when it comes out.

There are some more, well, polarising beers out there as well. If you love the big, peat-smoke flavours of Ardbeg whisky, you'll love Yeastie Boys' Rex Attitude. This award-winning golden ale is made with heavily peated malt to give a real whisky hit. I've tried it and it reminded me of drinking a glass of Lagavulin single malt submerged in a pint of barley wine.

It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience for those who love their flavours big and bold, but be warned - a little goes a long way.

- Herald on Sunday

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