Drinking Out: Smoke Beer at The Rabbit Club

The Rabbit Club is the sort of New York bar that makes you seem like an insider to out-of-town guests. It’s a dark and narrow all-beer basement establishment on a bustling street in the West Village, the kind of place you walk by dozens of times without noticing the steel door and minimal, makeshift signage.

My girlfriend and I took my brother there in October and smiled to each other when he asked the bartender for his darkest, nastiest, thickest beer. We had brought him to the right place.

The amiable bartender raised his eyebrows at my brother’s request, but obliged with a tall glass of a 2003 Le Coq Imperial Double Stout (9% alcohol, $14 a glass), a brew that poured like used motor oil and made Guinness taste like a lager. The flavor was super complex, and we both took numerous small sips—you couldn’t gulp it—to try to describe its flavors. It was bitter, like unsweetened, unsour black cherries, and it smelled oddly like a fresh band-aid. It was earthy, and almost like a good soy sauce. Most of all, it was heavy. I loved it, and ended up drinking half of my brother’s giant glass.

But the best beer of the evening was the smoke beer, the Aecht Schlenkerla Märzen Rauchbier (5.1% alcohol, $10 a glass). “It’s like a campfire,” the bartender warned. I don’t remember which of the three of us ordered it first, but when I tasted it, I was captivated. It came in a tall, one pint, 0.9 ounce bottle with lots of gothic script on it. It’s a German ale that uses malt smoked with beechwood. It’s very dark, as smoky as a glass of Laphroaig single malt scotch, and strangely refreshing.

I’m drinking the Rauchbier in a glass with an ounce of Jim Beam as I write this, and I have to say, it’s delicious. It dulls the bubbles a tiny bit, and adds a new flavor to the usual campfire smoke taste I like so much. It’s a rounded, boozy bourbon flavor, and it mixes well with the smoke beer.

I’ve bought a few bottles of it here in Park Slope, Brooklyn at Bierkraft, a beer shop and home brewing resource. They charge $6.60 a bottle, which is worth it, but I saw it down the block for $4.75.

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