Charbonniere is French for “Coal Woman”, and while this beer tastes very little like a woman, it is reminiscent of coal. Really what it is, is a smoke beer. Before kilning and indirect heating was used to dry and malt barley grains, they were smoked over direct fires creating a very distinct and smoky beer. Eventually when maltsters mastered indirect heating, brewers were able to use unsmoked malted barley creating a cleaner, more elegant beer capable of taking on a new variety of flavors.
The old smoked ales though do still exist. They are most famous in Bamberg, the venerable smoke beer capital of the world. Dieu Du Ciel’s Charbonniere uses smoked malts hailing from Bamberg to recreate a soft smoky flavor in the beer with a rich malt backbone. It has been brewed since 1999 at Dieu Du Ciel’s brewpub and fits perfectly with the astonish lineup of beer’s they offer.
The Charbonniere comes in 355ml bottles at 5% abv, and as far as I have seen, they are only available in Quebec. I opened it up cool around 8C (45F) and poured it into a tall tulip glass. The pour was big and frothy forming a lush 2 inch tan brown head with streak of bobbles and a pillowy, creamy cap. The beer stood and amber maroon with glimmers of deep red garnet, purple and hints of gold. It was slightly opaque, and very close to black, showing great dark brick browns. Great depth of color and intensity drew me into this beer.
The nose is classic rauchbier with smooth smoky notes of BBQ, smoked sausage, char and firewood. The smoke is not overpowering and lends into some warm malt sweetness getting close to toffee, but more like slightly burnt brown sugar. No hops are noticeable here, but it does smell fresh and quenching. You should never dismiss a rauchbier from being supremely quenching, they can refresh your palate with the best of pale ales!
A nice big gulp of the Charbonniere reveals smooth and silky smoke flavors guided along by light caramel malts, hints of spice and pepper, and a clean very dry hop finish. The beer is elegant and delicate, and not all showy and blunt. The smoke is soft and smooth gliding over your tongue just glancing at wood fires, and then moves into your cheeks showing off smooth and softly rich flavors of BBQ, char and smoked meat. Hints of pepper and spice make their way along the sides of your tongue and tickle the back of your throat.
Malt does play the primary role here and is the spine and nervous system of this beer. It is smooth and lightly sweet with soft biscuit and caramel on the palate, but an overall dry, slightly sweet feeling. Hops show soft herbal bitterness that touches in at the back of the beer and rounds it out nicely. It is not nearly as potent as the majority of rauchbiers that I have had, but does exemplify great flavors in a delicate and quenching soft smoke beer.
A clean and crisp finish makes the Charbonniere a very easy drinking beer and would pair perfectly with anything off the grill, or even a smooth cigar.