Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em
Compared to the rest of the animal kingdom, human beings have a terrible sense of smell. Smoke is one thing humans are extremely sensitive to. Scientists and perfumers talk about detection thresholds for different compounds. For many aromatic compounds they discuss thresholds in “parts per million.” For smoke phenols, the discussion turns to “parts per billion.”
Over the course of human history, most of our beer has been smoky, an unavoidable consequence of malt drying. With a switch to cleaner fuels and isolated drying kilns, beer went smokeless.
Who says the Germans rauch brewers get to have all the fun? You can take advantage of their beechwood-smoked rauchmalz or the Scottish peat smoked. A producer in California makes alder wood–, cherry wood–, and maple wood–smoked malts. At home you can dampen malt in a pan and cold smoke it for several hours until dry and then let it sit for two weeks before using. The damp malt will grab the smoke particles better and the airing out allows any nasty phenols to out gas before they end up in your beer.