Let’s consider expectations in regards to our beer for a moment. When one pours something dark and black into their glass, the general expectation is that what is to be enjoyed will be heavy, thick, malty and bold. This being the natural assumption rooted in the nature of the stout and porter.
As color can so often guide us in respect to what we think a beer may be like, the schwarzbier (German for “black beer”) is one which for the average beer drinker may throw a bit of a curveball at them in the course of their drinking. This being due to the nature of the thing as it is brewed and consumed. In short, welcome to the lighter blackness of the beer world that you may have missed at some point along the way.
To begin with, it is on slightly closer inspection that one notices that though black in color, the schwarzbier is not entirely opaque, allowing some light to pass along its edges, betraying the actual brown tone to it and giving a hint as to its nature. This is, as you might now perceive if you weren’t tipped off by my subtitle, a matter of lightness which is actually rather surprising. Given as we considered earlier the typical expectation that such darkness creates, the lighter texture and flavor we’re presented with is actually a rather lovely change of pace, especially in the winter season of aggressively malty and boozy stouts, porters and double bocks.
So, considering the beer on its specific merits we start with the nose. Smelling of gentle and almost non-existent malts, hints of yeast and soft noble hops round out the scent to this schwarzbier, setting the palate up for something of an almost lager-y experience. At a sip, a genuinely soft and light texture and mouth-feel arrives, bringing with it a mild yeasty tanginess and the earthy notes of light, German hops.
As these are noble hops, the sort of flavors on offer from them may seem unusual if not unrecognizable to many American drinkers, in that as opposed to bolder, punchier resin, pine or citrus as many American strains are known for, these instead play more subdued rolls, almost as background notes in an otherwise humble, easy sipper. At 4.8% abv, this beer presents as exceptionally sessionable and altogether mild mannered, allowing for what I would assume to be an easy succession of one after another. At 16 oz. and coming (at least to American markets) in wrapped four packs, the totality of these provide enough alcoholic enjoyment for one or two persons, while being at the same time light and mild enough to where one is not entirely overtaken by the flavor or effect.
Perhaps in this sense, the Köstritzer shwarzbier is itself an interesting alternative to both the malty stouts and porters with their richly roasted grains and at the same time, the lager and pilsner sets known more for their yeasty, spritely characteristics. Of course this says nothing of IPA, however if my experience has taught me anything, the hop head is often a dedicated and well defined class of drinker who knows when and how readily they want for the notes and flavors they are after.
This being the case however, it is to Köstritzer, to classic alternatives such as this and of course to you, that in this new year, as in all years before I say as always…
While the brewery may have provided the product mentioned above for free, I was not required to write a positive review, I did not receive any monetary compensation, and the honest opinions I have expressed are my own.
Nicholas Goroff is an actor, writer and craft beer reviewer at EveryJoe.com. Certified as a Cicerone beer server, he is working towards obtaining certification as a beer judge while employed at Bert’s Better Beers in Hooksett, NH. When not reviewing beer, wine and spirits, he is typically writing political essays, screenplays and short fiction. Follow him on Twitter @wizardofcause.
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