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A new but old smoked beer from Zio Carlo

Historic commercial grodziskie label
Historic commercial grodziskie label
Wikipedia. Public domain

Zio Carlo Smoked Wheat Everyday

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Modern craft brewing is almost synonymous with innovation. The nature of today's breweries and those attracted to the industry embrace the new, the different and the unusual over the unyielding traditional. Yet in their chase to be ever-new with increasingly obscure ingredients, hops varietals and brewing/aging techniques, dozens (hundreds?) of regional and historical beer styles remain unexplored, or worse, forgotten entirely.

The best way to get my attention is with something I've never heard of before, and I don't mean an imperial kumquat stout. When I saw that Fort Worth's Zio Carlo Magnolia Brew Pub had a "grodziskie" on tap, I was immediately intrigued. After some Google research, the grodziskie turned out to not be a lineman for the Green Bay Packers but instead a centuries-old smoked beer style named after its town of origin, Grodzisk, in western Poland. Commercial examples of this beer had all but disappeared by the late 1990s, and it has only now been saved from obscurity by a handful of craft brewers around the world, including a couple of U.S. versions.

Sometimes called grätzer after the German name for Grodzisk (Grätz), like the German rauchbier the grodziskie uses smoked malt as a base but the similarities end there. The grodziskie is brewed from 100% wheat (some modern versions have introduced a bit of barley to the recipe) that is smoked over oak, sometimes beechwood, imparting a very soft yet clean campfire-smoke note that is nowhere near the intense meat-smoke often found in rauchbiers. The wheat also lends the final product more characteristics of a weizen than the bock of traditional rauchbier.

Zio Carlo's godziskie is as authentic as can be expected, given there are no official style guidelines nor any classic commercial examples for comparison. It is light-colored and cloudy with a frothy white head, looking much like any witbier, and the taste is light with a sharp wheat bite and just a tiny bit of hops and a yeasty tart citrus element. (Traditional recipes might have even used aged hops.) The smoke comes through as only a very mild charcoal flavor both on the palate and the nose, and doesn't build in intensity through the glass like that of a rauchbier.

This is a very light, delicate, effervescent and clean ale with a neutral finish that is highly sessionable, especially in the warmer months. Whereas this version is only 3% ABV, the style is traditionally always of lower gravity than average. One might be tempted to pair it with food as you would a rauchbier but those options seem heavy and clumsy; instead, try it with some smoked chicken or turkey and fresh fruit.

Although the recent proliferation of package microbreweries is a wonderful thing, North Texas is still missing an element of the craft beer experience with the almost nonexistence of local, independent brewpubs. Brewpubs allow this professional level of experimentation, exploring ideas and rare styles that would otherwise be financially risky or unfeasible at the commercial level, beers that need not appeal to larger demographics to be brewed but can be enjoyed as delicious curiosities and culinary education opportunities. Now that our craft brewery movement is firmly underway, let's do our best to support and grow our underserved brewpub sector.

Availability: Semi-rotating offering on tap only at Zio Carlo. Enjoy it while you can, and harass them to make more when it's gone.

Cheers!
paul@scientist.com
twitter.com/craftbeerusa