Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Beer style of the Week – Schwarzbier (Black Beer) – Week 10

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.

New England

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.

Good stuff!

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

Beer Style of Week – Tripels (Triples) Week 9

Besides the fact that the term Tripel in regards to ale comes from the region known as the lowlands between Netherlands and Belgium and that it is a Strong Pale Ale, there remains some confusion about origins of the Tripel designation. One theory is that in the past, brewers from the Lowlands marked three XXX’s on a cask of their ale to indicate its strong ale (around 9% ABV). Another plausible theory (and correct for today’s definition) is that the Tripel is brewed with three times the amount of malt and /or three different malts. It’s probably safe to assume that all these theories are true. Original Tripels were dark Strong Ales. Today’s version is quite pale, like a thick, golden, oily Pilsner in Color, with thick and creamy white heads. They are a little tricky in that they may appear mild because of their light color, but in reality they range from around 7.9% - 11% ABV. Anything below or above those marks should be considered fringe Tripels at best. Hey, there needs to be some parameters set for the consumer, right?

Although Tripels are malty by design, they are usually fairly hoppy with a fair amount of sweetness, which in turn makes them balanced. Some Tripels blend spices such as coriander into the mix.

Tripel Summary: Pale golden oily color. Foamy white head. Spicy and citrusy hop nose, with sweet caramel, bready and yeast aroma, with a hint of banana. Big sweet malty taste. Assertive spicy and citrusy hop flavors. Solid alcohol punch. A good beer to settle down with and slowly enjoy on a chilly evening. Pairs well with a variety of cheeses and cured meats. It also, goes well with rich, creamy desserts, or well-made dark chocolates.

From the Lowlands

Trippel Karmeliet - Brouwerji Bosteels – Buggenhout, Belgium – 8.4% ABV

This is one of your typical full malted, abundantly sweet, nicely hopped, fragrant, alcohol warmed, richly decadent beers.

Poured into a large wine goblet at Public House.

A deep hazy orange-hued amber color settles beneath a full lush white head. Fragrant floral hops, sweet malt, spices and a warm breath of alcohol billow forward. Full sweet caramel and candy sugar are quite noticeable. Clove, coriander and orange zest mingle in the background. A light lemony bitterness offers some ballast to offset the almost oily rich sweetness. Mild warming alcohol is present throughout. This is a very nice dessert, or sitting by the fire beer. Very rich!

Westmalle Trappist Tripel – Malle, Belgium – 9.5% ABV

A strong brew, this authentic Trappist Tripel. Deep leathery orange with fine fizzy head and lasting lace. Yeast, sweet malt, hops, alcohol and earthy aromas. The deep rich malt invites heavy gulping (though beware!). High in complex hops. Lightly sweet and heavy bodied. A yeasty flavor is lingering behind the bitter and peppery tastes. A hint of banana is detected late in the smell and taste profile. Strong brew! Whew!

New England Tripels

Allagash Triple Ale – Portland, Maine – 9% ABV

12oz stubby brown bottle. Served in an Allagash Goblet.

Define the Tripel style and this brew will sit smack dab in the middle of the definition.

Slick golden-hued amber with a snow-white on top and gobs of sticky and trailing lacing.

Smells like a Tripel! Sweet malt, citrusy and resinous hops, light clove and banana bread aromas. Just a light whiff of rummy alcohol is noticed.

The flavors of caramel, banana bread, orange and grapefruit bitterness, and a nice light rum alcoholic kick going down.

The body is a tad thin for the style, but holds up well throughout.

Allagash really does a remarkable job of capturing the essence of the Belgian style, and this Triple is no different.

Featured Tripel

Pretty Things – Fluffy White Rabbits

22oz brown bottle. Freshness date stamped on cap cover.

Served in a Chimay goblet.

It looks like a dull caramel candy drop with a snow-white head on top. Not much in the way lacing.

The aroma is Tripel all the way. Caramel candy, woody, resinous, citrusy lemon zest, yeasty and bready at once. A slightly medicinal bandage smell (in a comforting way) is in the background. Lovely!

It is hoppy for a Tripel, but it says so on the label, so be ready for a resinous, citrusy blast. A taste of white rum and sweet caramel are steadying influences, but really can't, or don't care to compete. A light taste of banana bread slides in and stays till the end. The candy sugar inches forward as it warms.

The body is fairly substantial and slightly oily. It's meant to be quaffed, not gulped, but it's hard not to take huge slugs now and then for the fuller effects.

Somehow I suspect that Brewer, Dann Paquette understands this phenomena when he brews certain styles in his own off-the-path way and just smiles a knowing smile realizing the consumer will somehow “get it”. I’ll get some more!

There are plenty of cool and rainy nights on the calendar, so be sure to keep some Tripels handy!


Quote: “At first he wished to drink sherry, but I begged him to do no such thing…The landlord allowed himself to be dissuaded, and after a glass or two of ale, confessed that sherry was a sickly, disagreeable drink…” – George Borrow – 1803-1881