We haven’t visited Germany as the foundation for one of our Beer styles of the Week in quite some time. So here we have a lager style so unique to the south eastern region of Germany that very few countries have taken a serious stab at capturing the execution of the original idea. Schwarzbier may be one of the, if not the oldest scientifically proven beer styles in Europe. While we know that lagers are a relatively new style when compared to ale, lager (which means cellared) have been brewed for quite some time, although not in the controlled brewing conditions and methods we understand today. A crock found in 1935 in an ancient burial ground dated from around 800 BC in west of Kulmbach, Germany contained residues of blacken barley bread used for brewing Black Beer. If it was brewed and fermented in a cool cave or cellar, we can be sure it was a lager. Today’s Schwarzbier is firmly in the lager family.
Today Black Beer falls into many different style ranges, from the original Schwarz lager, to the paler cousins from Bavaria, the Dunkel, to Black Ales, and Black IPAs, to the amped up “Imperial” Blacks.
The Schwarz, in general terms is a mellow, medium-bodied black lager. It ranges in color from a slightly transparent black to a ruby-hued cola color. The bitterness to malt ratio is fairly balanced. There is typically very little fruity or citrusy notes. Light smokiness in aroma and flavor is common. A proper Schwarz is very gulpable and goes well with a wide variety of foods. All the smells and aromas are subtle. Nothing jumps out and grabs you. Instead, you find what lies inside by searching and savoring.
Kostritzer – Thuringen, Germany – 4.8% ABV
11.2oz dark brown bottle. Freshness date stamped on back label.
Served in an over-sized handled mug.
It pours a burnt cola color with a tannish beige head and lots of webby lacing.
The aroma is of clear and clean toasted malt. A light whiff of distant wildflowers is imagined (or real?)
True to the style, it's a delicate balance of slightly honey sweet toasted malt and mildly resinous and metallic hop. A little alcohol hints in the aftertaste.
This is one mellow fellow! Looks are deceiving!
So very drinkable! Try this with really spicy dishes and/or a variety of cheeses and salamis.
Monchoff – Kulmbacher, Germany 4.9% ABV
This very Black Beer is dark black coffee in color. The almost oily herbal malt is medium in body. The pleasant slightly fruity, malty, hoppy nose is a joy to breathe, though act quick, it doesn’t last. Amply hopped with Pilsner-type bittering hops. Dry yet lightly sweet with a hint of apples. Nice mix of malt and hops make for a balanced brew. Restrained yet bursting with flavors with a little effort.
South of the Border (Many Germans have migrated to South and Central America the past hundred years and have brought with them the beer styles they have been accustomed to)
Xingu Black Beer – Santa Maria, Brazil – 4.7% ABV
Big dark bottle. No freshness date.
It pours the darkest red-hued mahogany possible before blackness. A bubbly tan head fades fast. Very little lace. Sweet malt aroma, with a vague smell of apples in the background
A sweet syrupy thick malt is doughy and a bit smoky.
Amply Hopped with a very unique pectin, herb and citrusy taste. A honey sweetness reemerges towards the end. It feels more potent than its listed 4.7%.
Modelo Negra – Mexico City, Mexico – 5.4% ABV
Ha ha! Negra is really a Munich Dunkel Lager, not a Schwarzbier.
Magic Hat Demo Black IPA – Burlington, VT – 6% ABV
12oz brown bottle. Freshness date stamped on bottle neck.
Served in a standard pint glass.
It pours a mahogany-hued black with a fading beige head, along with some splotchy lacing.
Smells of cut dry pine and slightly burnt rye toast, mingle with citrusy and resinous hops.
Unlike a Schwarzbier, the hop flavors are upfront and dominant. Citrus, spruce, resinous and metallic hops are strong, but reluctantly give way to a fairly solid malty body. Rye toast and graham crackers with a touch of honey follow in behind the hops. A little boozy alcohol staggers in and joins the party, but sort of off to the side, belching and hiccupping now and then, but not totally inappropriate.
Nice beer to pair with grilled meats and veggies or spicy Asian dishes.
Black Hops – Blue Hills Brewery – Canton, MA – 6.7% ABV
12oz brown bottle. Served in a standard pint glass.
It pours a root beer black with a fast-fading tan head, along with some patchy lacing.
Smells or burnt rye toast, sweet malt, resinous and citrusy hops mix around, and come and go at will. A little dose of rummy fumes sneaks in and lasts throughout.
The flavors are balanced like a Schwarzbier, but unlike a Schwarz, the flavors are big and in your face. There are no subtleties here. Like loud but lovable cousins, this beer is difficult to ignore, but easy to get along with. And you look forward to future visits from them. This is a very liquid ale. Goes down real fast in large gulps.
White Birch – Indulgence Ale – Imperial Black Ale? – Hookset, NH – 9% ABV
22oz dark brown bottle. Bottled on date on front label.
Served in a tall nonic glass.
One of the tannest heads I've ever seen floats atop an impenetrable brown-tinted black body.
Smells of chocolate, coffee, licorice, root beer, wet gym socks, chimneys, with a bit of citrus peeking through, are all jumbled together.
The flavors are a bit all over the place as well. Cocoa, coffee with cream, fruit cup, banana bread, molasses, resinous and citrusy hops and warming alcohol blast around without any thought of balance or harmony, but then why not just make a really BIG freaking beer??!!?!??
It's not really a Schwarz or Imperial Schwarz or an Imperial Chocolate Stout, or anything in between. It is what it is. A BIG Dark Mystery Beer!
Quote: “The selling of bad beer is a crime against Christian love.” - The law in the City of Augsburg, Germany – 13th century