Nowadays, it’s not so weird to hear that adding coffee to your beer is a delicious idea, or that slushy “smoothie” beers are worthy of the craft-brew treatment. Practically anything goes, as long as it tastes intriguing and adds joy to the hobby of nerding out over beer.
But I have to admit that using a red-hot steel poker to caramelize beer is, by all standards, a truly bizarre-seeming technique. The method is as simple as it sounds: You heat up a chunk of metal until it’s blazing hot, then dip it into a pint of beer, fizzing up a creamy head and cooking the malt and sugars inside the beer. Unsurprisingly, the technique is most commonly done with darker, sweeter beers, which some fans say makes for a flavor reminiscent of s’mores.
Doing it right means following a few basic rules: You need a long piece of metal that will retain heat and is food-safe, and an efficient way to heat it up. In the past, I’ve used a small utility kitchen knife and a wide stainless steel straw, heated using a kitchen butane torch; you can use a stove’s gas burner or even an actual fireplace if you prefer.
Malty beers like English or red ales, stouts and black lagers are perfect for the hot-poker treatment; the key is to use an ice-cold beer and pour it slowly, not releasing much of a head. Leave some room in the glass for a head to fizz up when the poker is inserted, and remember that the poker doesn’t need much to do its job — a few swirls of the tool is enough. Then drink while the foam is aromatic and the beer is still cool.
Hot-poking beer isn’t a new fad: There’s a long history of colonial-era “flips,” as well as mulled wine and cider, that use a piece of hot metal to add flavor to alcoholic drinks. Beer-obsessed communities around Europe have long enjoyed the use of a hot poker in beer; in Germany, the tool is called a bierstachel. You can even buy speciality tools called toddy rods, mulling pokers and ale warmers.
In 2022, consider the hot-poker beer as a perfect transitional drink as cold nights fade into the warmer days of spring. It’s a party trick that doubles as legitimate flavor-tweaker for your favorite malty beers — and besides, who doesn’t like playing with fire?