Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Feel the Schwarz

I love doing a comparative tasting. I find that taking a selection of beers from a range of breweries really helps me calibrate my expectations of a given style. Given that part of the aim of a comparative tasting for me is to educate, or often re-educate, my palate on a given a style, I often make sure to have an archetype of the style being tasted in the mix.

A style that I have been keen to do such a tasting for is that Thuringian speciality, bratwurst, no wait sorry, I meant schwarzbier...though schwarzbier and bratwurst could easily be a weekend lunch or dinner.

The archetypal schwarzbier is of course from Köstritzer, and while I have regularly seen it on tap in my local area, only recently has it started turning up in packs of four half litre cans. At the same time, my Schilling Beer Company kick shows no sign of abating, and their Feldberg happened to be on the shelves of Beer Run when I popped in on Friday afternoon. No schwarzbier tasting would be complete without two time World Beer Cup medalist (one gold, one bronze) Schwartz Bier from Devils Backbone.

Having considered doing the tasting blind and ranking the three beers in order of preference, I opted just to drink them sequentially, starting in Germany...

Köstritzer Schwarzbier

  • Sight: dark brown, garnet edged, half inch tan head with decent retention
  • Smell: roasty, mostly well toasted bread, some dark caramel, slightly woody, earthy hops
  • Taste: again toast, not quite burnt toast, but not far off, some coffee, unsweetened cocoa
  • Sweet: 2/5
  • Bitter: 3/5
A good start to the tasting. While it is clearly a "big brewery" product, Köstritzer being part of the Bitburger empire, it is a big German brewery, which usually means the beer will at least be clean, technically proficient, and well made. It might be just a little thin and marginally one-dimensional, but would I drink it happily every day? Why, yes, yes I would.

Schilling Beer Co. Feldberg
  • Sight: dark mahogany, brown highlights, ivory head, good retention
  • Smell: earthy/oaky upfront, milk chocolate, grassy and floral hop aroma
  • Taste: rich chocolate, earthy, petrichor, traces of coffee
  • Sweet: 3/5
  • Taste: 3/5
The Schilling love in continues! This is one nicely balanced beer, rich without being overwhelming, there is something of a coconut character floating about that made me think of Bounty bars. The fuller mouthfeel and more medium body help to make this a more complex, and satisfying, beer.

Devils Backbone Schwartz Bier
  • Sight: near black, garnet edges, half inch light brown head, good retention
  • Smell: deeply bready, some cola, chocolate cake, floral hops
  • Taste: very well toasted bread, espresso, light cocoa
  • Sweet: 2.5/5
  • Bitter: 3/5
There is a reason this beer has a gold medal from the World Beer Cup for the schwarzbier style, it is a damned fantastic beer. Supremely balanced, the body is somewhere between Köstritzer and Schilling, and the finish is long and clean. Beautiful, simply beautiful.

As I said , the aim of this tasting was not to pick out a winner, but rather to calibrate my palate as well as take the opportunity to see where Schilling would stand in relation to the archetype and one of the world's best iterations of the style. Very handily is the answer to that particular question. However, at $7 for a couple of litres of good beer, it is difficult to look past Köstritzer, though it is great to finally have options when it comes to beer to drink with bratwurst...


  1. I had my first Kostritzer at the Capital Alehouse when visiting my uncle in Midlothian.

  2. Saw your tweet about cask ale in Ireland. I had cask ale at the DoG Street Pub in Williamsburg, it was from Heavy Seas Brewing in Baltimore Md. If there is a cask revival outside the UK, I say it will probably be in the East Coast corridor between New England and Virginia. NYC is especially well suited to pub culture inho due to the subway.


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