Culture: How Beer Spiking Can Elevate Your Next Fireside Brew
On the cold nights when, huddled around the blazing fire pit and still bundled up against the elements, I want to have a beer, I’ll pour something malty and strong into a stein and reach for my poker. Officially, the company that manufactures and markets the poker calls it a “beer caramelizer.” And rather than the traditional fireplace versions, the tip is flat, not pointed. Plunge it into the fire, let it get glowing red, and carefully remove and plunge into your beer of choice. The heat takes residual sugars in the beer and creates a foamy, caramelized flavor and enhances its mouthfeel. With roots in Germany, where it’s called “beer spiking,” hot pokers have been used in beer in America since at least the 1700s but the practice has become a solidly Midwestern thing.
I was introduced to this concept in one of the most magical of beer lands: Minnesota. August Schell’s Brewing Co. in New Ulm hosts an annual Bock Festival, and it’s typically held in the dead of the Great Plains winter, outside on the brewery’s sprawling grounds. Temperatures are well below freezing, snow is on the ground (and often falling), and fire pits are set up in strategic locations to keep attendees from freezing.
At each of these pits is a fire tender who is armed with a poker that they will happily dip into a mug of bock, creating a frothy, s’mores-like flavor. A doppelbock, a strong toasty ale that often has dark fruit notes, is the preferred style. Any strong, dark ale or lager would work—like imperial stouts, Baltic porter or barleywine.
You May Also Like: An Insider’s Guide to the Great American Beer Festival
“It’s unfair to call it a gimmick because it appreciatively changes the beer in a noticeable way,” says Evan Sallee, the cofounder and CEO of Fair State Brewing Cooperative in Minneapolis. “There is notable appeal and great visual and tactile experience.”
Fair State has made it a habit of doing events in the winter where its servers can add some hot metal to cold beers. Sallee says their doppelbock is the preferred pour. Safety must be first, so the servers are trained to properly handle hot pokers and to give clear instructions to customers holding the mugs (or where to place them on the ground for the best angle).
At home, keeping wits sharp is important, but when the poker gets hot enough and the mug is full, a plunge in for five to 10 seconds is usually enough time to let the heat caramelize and singe the sugars. Carbonation is lost in the process, but the fluffier mouthfeel and the warmth adds to drinkability.
“For me, in the winter, anything that includes fire is joyful and comforting,” says Sallee. “Fire brings people together for cooking and warmth; a hot poker in the beer is a way to interact in a special way with a spectacle.”
Try It Yourself
Casual Panache Campfire Beer Caramelizer Poking Tool
Want to heat up your beer at home? You technically don’t need any fancy tools—a simple cast-iron fireplace poker works perfectly after a few moments of heating up in the fire. (Just knock off any ash first. ) For something shorter with a little more flair, the Casual Panache 1571F is a smart choice for both indoor and outdoor use.
This article originally appeared in the November 2023 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!
Bring the World of Wine to Your Doorstep
Subscribe to Wine Enthusiast Magazine now and get 1 year for
Last Updated: October 30, 2023
Like what you’re reading? Learn more about: