It's All Just Cloaks and Mirrors

Brewery and Country of Origin: Jack's Abby Brewing LLC of 81 Morton St, Framingham, MA, 01702, USA

Date Reviewed: 3-13-13

The name of this beer, "Smoke and Dagger" is a play on the terms "Cloak and Dagger," and "Smoke and Mirrors." The former is a phrase which describes a deceitful and secretive tactic used to disguise something like a weapon, a competitive tactic, espionage, or a political move as something more benign or peaceful. The idea is that the perpetrator can gain an advantage by taking their target by surprise from a strategic position (eg, inside a secure area, behind enemy lines, unseen, or within striking distance of a target). A historic example could be the use of the Trojan Horse, which was used as an enemy transport disguised as a gift. The soldiers hiding inside gained an advantage by secretly breaching their enemy's fortified walls with the help of their unknowing enemy. The latter phrase is a metaphor used to describe the fraudulent use of a claim or explanation in order to make a thing or situation appear better than it really is. These can also be promises of something that is either impossible or extremely difficult to make good on. Back in late January and again on Valentine's Day, we reviewed a pair of black lagers sometimes known as schwarzbiers (black/dark beers) which were good at being both misunderstood, and misleading. And to an extent, this is reasonable. Sadly here in America, most of us commonly associate the lager with the usual "watered down" supercold crap produced in the midwest. It doesn't help that these are the most widely available, most distributed, and most marketed beers in the world. For this reason, we have generally gotten to know of the lager as such. Fortunately for us that know better, the lager is much more than that, and everyone should know what it really has to offer. But for the black lager, that's a bit of a challenge. Because another misconception in America is that dark beers are heavy, filling, and full bodied. These are qualities exactly opposite to light pale lagers; qualities avoided by many if the primary goal is simply to drink. But what makes this style a sort of "Cloak and Mirrors" or "Smoke and Dagger" situation (if you combine the two, of course), is that this beer looks like something you'd probably avoid if you're playing a drinking game, celebrating the Fourth, or on the beach in July. In actuality, many (if not, most) dark lagers drink as easily as their pale cousins, but the experience is different as they offer different sets of flavors and aromas. So rather than seemingly entering a good situation only to be stabbed in the back, this beer is the opposite for the light beer drinker. And hopefully by now (after three separate reviews which have gone into the subject), you'll know that not all dark beers are heavy. Though, you could argue that this is a universal truth that everyone should know at birth. Argue, not convince.
Date Sampled: 3-01-13 At: 7 Prescott Place, Allston, Boston, MA, 02134, USA
Beer Style: Rauchbier
Alcohol by Volume: 5.80%
Serving Type: 500 mL Bottle, 20 oz Pint Glass
Rating: 3.40


Smoke and Dagger is filtered with a clear dark brown color and a somewhat shiny appearance. This beer pours smoothly with a modestly low level of carbonation action, giving this beer a quickly dissipating half inch tall foam head with a low retention and a medium density. This beer has weak lacing, and a dark reddish glow in the light.


This beer's medium strength aroma showcases some sweeter cocoa with a more bitter coffee like side note. There is some nuttiness as well as a hoppy bitter trail. There is no alcohol, no fruitiness, or graininess in the aroma.


This is a medium bodied beer with a medium low viscosity, a medium amount of carbonation, and a somewhat high amount of smoothness, making this beer pretty easy going and a good all season beer. This beer is pretty easy to drink in moderate quantities. There is a subtle alcohol induced warming at the close which is slightly dry and lingers for a short amount of time.


This rauchbier has a strong flavor, mostly defined by a dark roasted coffee presence, with some sweeter chocolate. Overall the flavor is somewhat bitter with no real hops present until the very end. There are some biscuity notes as well as some sweet toffee like flavors. A small amount of alcohol is present in the flavor.

Our Take

There is something to be said about something that proves a preconception is merely a misconception. The black and dark lagers out there, like this rauchbier, are simply styles which don't follow common traits. In America, these are underappreciated styles which have yet to receive the proper attention they deserve, because some of these are just great beers. At this point, we would also like to note that these quirky styles have two things to prove: one, that they're bold lagers which have substance, but not fill; and two, that not all dark and malty beers drink like liquified bread. Who knows, maybe once more of these kinds of beers (like the newer Black IPA) are available in America, our perceptions of them will change for the better. We are aware this will take time. Perceptions are hard to change. But beers like this great offering from a lesser known Boston area brewery are a great place to start. This beer's strong malty and dark roasted bittersweet flavor go well with heartier meals, but a medium lighter presence makes it perfect for any season. Yes, from Apsen to Senior Frogs. So if there was ever a way to use the terms "cloak and daggers" and "smoke and mirrors" in a positive way, this beer is it. This beer's appearance sets you up for a pleasant surprise... not a sleight of hand fallacy or a knife in the chest. Be thankful for that.