The Smoky Beer Trend Perfect For Campfire Nights

Judging by how expansive the beer culture of the present day is, it's hard to imagine anything new you can do with the drink. However, if you thought society had reached the limit of brewing, you thought wrong. "Beer poking," in which a steaming hot rod is dipped into a pint, might just be one of the strangest rituals in the world of booze.

This isn't a new concept, either, although it may see a resurgence. The practice, known as "Bierstacheln" in its native German, actually originated more than 400 years ago as a way to heat up beer for better enjoyment in the bitter cold months of the winter. Sipping on a warm beer may sound disgusting, especially to American drinkers, but the truth is that serving beer chilled is a more recent innovation due to refrigeration technology. That means that beer poking is far from a modern gimmick; it's a more traditional way to experience drinking a beer.

The history and how-to of beer poking

According to the historical Bavarian brewery Weihenstephan, the cold European winters inspired blacksmiths to heat beer with their own pokers. This process caramelizes the malt sugar, decarbonating the beverage and creating a thick, creamy foam. Despite this German backstory, the practice also has roots in British and American colonial tradition in the form of a cocktail called a "flip." Famous figures like George Washington and Charles Dickens enjoyed the drink, which consisted of rum, ale, and sugar heated up with a metal rod called a loggerhead.

The trick to a good glass of Bierstacheln is to leave the poker in for about only four seconds, give or take, and stir in a smooth, gentle motion until the foam is just about to pour out. Remember that you don't want to completely flatten your beer or heat it until it's piping hot. The process works best in darker, sweeter beers, namely bocks, in which the sugary malts create the fluffiest, toastiest pillows of foam that can hold up to a bit of decarbonization. Weihenstephan suggests poking its own Korbinian Doppelbock with a Bierstacheln (which refers to both the iron tool and the practice itself), but American breweries have also taken to the tradition.

Bierstacheln in America

Craft breweries in America haven't yet caught on to Bierstacheln en masse, but a few have embraced the serving style. Pour Man's Brewing in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, offers the appropriate choice of its Dunkel and Foltzenator bock poked. Strange Land Brewing in Georgetown, Texas, outside of Austin, has attempted to start an annual beer-poking festival in the fall, experimenting with other, more autumnal styles like an imperial bourbon pumpkin porter.

The most successful and longest-running beer-poking locale in America, however, is in New Ulm, Minnesota, where the early spring provides just enough warmth to walk outside and just enough chill to celebrate Bierstacheln. Schell's Brewery has held its annual early March BockFest since 1986, where thousands of attendees have been sipping on poked beer for decades. Schell's has popularized beer-poking in the state and the ritual has spread to local establishments like Lupulin Brewing in Big Lake and Utepils Brewing in Minneapolis, which uses a specialized stick called the 1571°F. 

Wisconsin-based company Casual Panache lists the tool, created by chemistry professor Forrest Schultz, as the only "Beer Caramelizer" on the market. And the beer poker has only just begun its ascent, as TikToker Mike Hartmann's beer review series has garnered millions of views for his demonstrations of the Beer Caramelizer. Even though it's a winter tradition, summer campfire evenings provide the perfect opportunity to try out the ages-old tradition on your own.