The most reliable way to make me break my reclusive habits and get me out of my beer-cave is to brew an obscure, historic style of beer that I’ve never heard of. Vector Brewing did just that.
In planning before last year’s shutdown and forced to open at the height of our current pandemic, Dallas’ Vector Brewing has been bravely treading water for the past year as they put out some excellent, very drinkable lagers and phenomenal craft pizza. Owned and powered by Lakewood Brewing alums Craig and Veronica Bradley with brewer Tommy Gutierrez, business for the Lake Highlands brewpub has been slow but surviving for their freshman year (recently celebrating their first anniversary).
The beer in question is a lichtenhainer, a forgotten twist on the German gose style originating from the town of Lichtenhain (now part of today’s Sebnitz) in Saxony. Gose is an old German wheat beer style that has been rising in popularity for several years in the US for its novel light and refreshing flavor. Originally spontaneously fermented, modern gose is lightly dosed with lactobacillus bacteria to give the beer a slight sour flavor, not unlike traditional sourdough bread.
The lichtenhainer variation uses smoked grains for what is described stylistically as a “smoked sour.” Smoked-grain beers (ie, rauchbiers) are a craft beer specialty that has been slow to gain any traction with the greater consuming public. Not only can they be difficult to brew but people’s sensitivity to the fusel elements can vary, with some finding the results off-putting. The flavors in the final beer can be sublime but, even with an experienced brewer, the smoked elements can go from barely-there to perfect to Sharpie in an instant.
“We love experimenting with classic styles, especially those that are not seen as often these days,” says Craig Bradley. “We also love smoke, sours, and lagers, so this was sort of a no-brainer for us. The reason we don’t refer to it as a ‘lichtenhainer’ right off the bat is simply a marketing decision. Rather than scare people off of a beer by using a term or style they don’t understand, we attempt to at least get them to try the beer first using words they can understand, then help educate them by later revealing that particular beer’s background.”
Vector’s product is lyrically dubbed “Moonsmoke,” and has a gentile ABV of only 3.6%. This session strength alone has made it a difficult sell for craft beer fans who lately gravitate toward the high-gravity brews. However, Moonsmoke’s unique flavor and easy-drinking nature quickly made it a favorite of the brewhouse and kitchen staff, and almost guarantees it a place in future tap rotation.
“We love experimenting with classic styles, especially those that are not seen as often these days.”
As served, Moonsmoke is unfiltered and pale yellow, fizzy, almost spritzy on the tongue. It is slightly sweet (only 24 IBU) with a light lemon flavor, leaning toward tangy or tart with hints of peach. The smoke is a little difficult to find at first but it is present, very delicate and high on the palate, more in the back of the mouth. A gentile woodiness builds as it warms slightly (more in nose than in taste) and you drink through the end of the glass.
The beer itself is brewed with half TexMalt‘s Llano pilsner malt and half peach wood–smoked malt. Traditional recipes are based on wheat malt (weissebier) but pilsner malt is a good substitute for the appearance of this normally unfiltered style. Because the smoke flavors are so mild with this batch, future iterations could stand to be made with all smoked malt for a more pronounced flavor profile.
Food pairings can also enhance the subtle smoke flavors. Vector’s own “Fine Swine” pie is the perfect foil for this beer: freshly made pork sausage, collard greens, caramelized onions, roasted garlic and smoky bacon with a fresh tomato sauce and their house sourdough crust. Almost every element on this pizza works to draw out the smoke, and the tartness of the beer cuts through the richer fatty ingredients.
Go for the beer. Stay for the pie.