Thursday, December 9, 2021

Come to the Schwarz Side

One of the reasons I had all the necessary dark lagers to do the dunkel-tmavé-schwarzbier triumvirate tasting in a previous post was because I have been stashing schwarzbiers since the end of October to do a distinctly schwarzbier tasting. My planned set of examples was complete when Mrs V and I headed back from South Carolina after Thanksgiving, picking up a couple of six packs of Olde Mecklenburg's Solar Eclipse that her cousin had put aside for me after one of his trips to Charlotte.

My collection of German style black lagers then was:

For those of you playing along at home, you may recall that I did a small schwarzbier tasting with three of these beers back in May, Devils Backbone, Köstritzer, and Schilling, but given examples from another couple of my go-to breweries, a do over seemed appropriate. Let's dive on in...

Köstritzer Schwarzbier
  • Sight - pitch black, dark brown edges, firm ivory foam, nice lacing
  • Smell - roasty, caramelised sugar, dark toast, some spicy hops
  • Taste - cold espresso, light cocoa, clean hop bite
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
There is a reason this is a classic, perhaps even the ur-typ of the style. It is freaking delicious, smooth, balanced, really easy to drink, and just reliable in the way that all the best archetypes are. It is perhaps a tad thin in the finish, but I quibble.

Devils Backbone Schwartz Bier
  • Sight - black, garnet highlights, solid ivory head
  • Smell - rich coffee, toasty, generally roasty
  • Taste - French roast coffee, sachertorte, clean hop bitterness
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 3/5
This beer has won multiple awards and for good reason. Sure it is a touch heavier than the Köstritzer, but it is just as smooth and drinkable. I have to admit that I go through times when this is a very regular part of my drinking, it just hits every note on the nail. Fun fact, my notes on this one are very close to when I took notes in May. Also, it makes an excellent řezané with Devils Backbone Gold Leaf.

Schilling Feldberg
  • Sight - black, red highlights, tall ivory foam
  • Smell - molasses, subtle coconut, toasty
  • Taste - medium roast coffee, light molasses, dates
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
Another smooth bodied, tasty black lager. Schilling really have become something of a go-to brewery for this lager boy, when their beers actually make it to the central Virginia area. If there was one downer with Feldberg, and this may be a product of age, the finish felt slightly muddled, lacking a crisp snap that I usually associate with lager.

Port City Schwarzbier
  • Sight - inky black, dark brown edges, thinnish off white foam
  • Smell - well toasted bread, not burnt but well toasted, coffee hints, some treacle
  • Taste - espresso, light molasses, spicy hops
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Port City make some of my favourite lagers, and their schwarzbier is definitely a good example of the style, if just a tad bit astringent in the finish. Speaking from pretty recent experience, it does make a fine beer round the firepit of an evening.

Olde Mecklenburg Solar Eclipse
  • Sight - dark brown, garnet at edges, thin off white head
  • Smell - light coffee, dark toast, spicy hops
  • Taste - toasty, think märzen but with extra deep sweetness and toast, lots of Munich malt?
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
I have to be honest, this one confused me from the get go as is poured so much paler than the others, I am not sure I would call it schwarz in any meaningful sense of the word. So confused was I that I checked out the BJCP style guidelines, which read:
Medium to very dark brown in color, often with deep ruby to garnet highlights, yet almost never truly black. Very clear. Large, persistent, tan-colored head.

Seemingly the colour is fine then, though every black lager I have had up until that point had been distinctly schwarz, as the GABF guidelines would expect, "dark brown to black". Even so, another cracking beer from the folks in Charlotte.

There we have it then, 5 excellent examples of one of Germany's most ancient beer styles. While I wasn't intending this tasting to rank the beers, there were two that stood out, Köstritzer and Devils Backbone. The others were all very good beers, but those two just had a little something more that appealed to me, and thankfully both are regularly available in this neck of the woods.

If I see more breweries making this style I will likely repeat this tasting and see if anything can match up to the original and the local hero.

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