Nothing is more charming than a squat stoneware mug. Doubly so if it contains cellar-cool beer, drunk in the Spezial-Keller in Bamberg.
Those who have visited Bamberg will have tried Spezial's Rauchbier, a lager with a gentle, smoky character that comes from the beechwood-smoked malt used to make it. Rauchbiers divide opinion in the way that, say, Morrissey does. There are the loyalists, and then everyone else, with views ranging from confusion to disgust.
But most breweries, thank goodness, no longer cater chiefly to the timid. A number of smoked beers are made in the UK, although they tend to tip their hats to historic British beers rather than Bamberg's finest. Beavertown, one of London's most fashionable new breweries, makes Smog Rocket, a faintly-peaty, toasted porter, while Lovibond's are responsible for Henley Dark, in which you'll detect a faint smokiness that is tantalising rather than all-enveloping.
There are a few smoked beers with German rather than London roots. Camden Town recently produced Flue Faker, to great acclaim (being seasonal, it's all gone now, alas) while Innis and Gunn, the Scottish barrel-ageing specialists, produce Smokin' Gunn, which allies smokiness with a pronounced sweetness.
For the real thing, though, head to Bamberg, where you'll find perhaps the richest brewing culture in the world; the bierkellers, which are definitely the best beer gardens in the world, are opening up about now, too. Even if you can't get there, it shouldn't be too hard to locate Schlenkerla's Marzen, a meatier, smokier alternative to Spezial's more delicate offering.
Three to try
Often described as tasting like liquid smoked ham. I think it's delicious. £3.15 for 50cl, 5.1 per cent, beermerchants.com
Beavertown Smog Rocket
Extremely drinkable, with chocolate and liquorice flavours to spare. £2.83 for 330ml, 5.4 per cent, alesbymail.co.uk
Lovibond's Henley Dark
Lots of roasted coffee and robust bitterness. A feisty beer from a sleepy town. £2.25 for 330ml, 4.8 per cent, lovibonds.co.ukReuse content