BeerCast #53 – Schwarzbiers

Posted by on Nov 24, 2010 in American Beer, BeerCasts, German Beer | No Comments

Following on from showcasing the excellent Kernel Brewery, our 53rd BeerCast takes a look at one of the traditional styles of Europe – Schwarzbiers. These dark lagers from Thuringia and Saxony have spread to breweries across the world, keen the experiment with the characteristic bitter malty style. We sampled the market leader (in terms of sales) – Köstritzer Schwarzbier – back in BeerCast #25. This time we try two German examples, and two American – Kulmbacher Mönschof (4.9%) from Eastern Bavaria is our first beer, before we sample Hummel-Brau Cowboy (5.0%) from Bamberg in Franconia. Our third beer is Saranac Black Forest (5.2%) from the Matt Brewing Co in Utica, New York, before we finish with compatriot Oregon’s Rogue Brewing Co – Morimoto Black Obi Soba Ale (5.0%). We also have a fifth beer – an exclusive (at the time) tasting of the new 5.5% Hefeweizen from Edinburgh’s Stewart Brewing, sampled two weeks before the official release date. On the panel today are Grooben, Richard, MrB and Shovels.

1. Kulmbacher Mönschof Schwarzbier (4.9%abv)
Kulmbacher Brauerei, Kulmbach, Bavaria, Germany.
500ml glass bottle

Bavaria is the birthplace of many a beer style – and both of tonight’s German schwarzbiers hail from that southerly state. The first comes from the town of Kulmbach – twin town of Scotland’s own Kilmarnock – and home to the largest museum in the world devoted to tin soldiers. The Kulmbacher Brauerei produce a range of traditional German-style beers under a variety of labels. “Mönschof” beers were produced by Kulmbacher Mönchshof Bräu until they were absorbed by the larger Kulmbacher Brauerei in 1999.

What They Say
“Mönchshof Schwarzbier- “the Black Pils”- is a brewing wonder and a brew-lover’s dream. Supremely drinkable, dry and beautifully hopped, yet loaded with dark malt flavour.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Richard – Smoky aroma, bitter chocolate aftertaste, it’s tremendous 9
MrB – Malty German lager, I’m absolutely loving this
Grooben – As a schwarzbier, I prefer this to Köstritzer 8
Shovels – Got a little bit of smoke, big caramel hit at the end 8

2. Hummel-Brau Cowboy
Brauerei Hummel Merkendorf, Bamberg, Upper Franconia, Germany
500ml glass bottle

The Brauerei Julius Hummel were founded in 1846 in the brewery-packed region of Franconia. The most famous style to emerge from here is the infamous smoked Rauchbier (once summed up by MrB as like “drinking hotdogs in a blender”). In comparison with the rest of Bavaria, beers that emerge from Franconia tend to slightly hoppier – those that don’t taste like a packet of smoky bacon crisps, anyhow. As with Kulmbacher, Hummel-Brau put out the standard range of teutonic tipples, all with the same distinctive triple crowned labelling system – apart from their schwarzbier, which for some reason features a rodeo cowboy.

What We Say
MrB – A non-offensive dark lager-based beer 5
Grooben – Not black, no roasty maltiness – why is it a schwarzbier? 5
Shovels – I would drink it again if someone bought it for me 5
Richard – Smells like stewed tea, watery and too thin 4

3. Saranac Black Forest
Saranac/Matt Brewing Co, Utica, New York, USA.
355ml glass bottle

The Matt Brewing Company may not be based in Germany, but they have the historical links to the schwarzbierland – founder Francis Xavier Matt was a German-born immigrant to the USA when he founded the company in 1888. His sons carried on – and today the Matt Brewing Company is in the hands of the fourth generation of his descendants, still brewing German-themed beers in the foothills of the Adirondacks. The Saranac brand is named after a nearby lake, which itself comes from the Iroquois word for ‘cluster of stars’.

What They Say
“A Bavarian black beer with caramel malt sweetness and trademark rich, creamy head. A fitting homage to our Grandfather’s apprenticeship at the Duke of Baden’s brewery in Germany’s Black Forest region.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Shovels – Quite a nice balance of the added sweetness and the malt 7
MrB – Tastes like an Anchor special, some sugar on the tongue 7
Grooben – Nice red colour, decent fruity blackcurrant taste 7
Richard – Like drinking a black forest gateaux, gets a bit sweet

4. Morimoto Black Obi Soba Ale
Rogue Brewing Co, Newport, Oregon, USA.
750ml glass bottle

The Rogue brewery began life exactly 100 years after Matt Brewing, on the other side of the continent in Ashland, Oregon. A group of college friends decided to make the familiar jump from homebrewing into something more serious – it must have helped that one of them was also an accountant. After less than a year in Ashland they relocated to larger premises in coastal Newport in 1989, and have since gone from strength to strength, having produced over sixty beers, and won countless awards. Although not technically a schwarzbier, their Morimoto Obi Soba Ale is black, and is dedicated to their distributor in Japan.

What They Say
“A richer version of our Soba Ale with the addition of specialty malts and a special blend of hops to give it a fuller, nutty flavor while retaining a clean, crisp finish.” [Official Website]

What We Say
MrB – Looks like a bottle of soy sauce, smells like teryaki
Grooben – Does have a soy kind of thing going on, an excellent beer 8
Shovels – The most complicated beer tonight, quite earthy
Richard – Every taste is different – sherry, soy, roasty, salty, it’s fascinatingly interesting 7

5. Stewart Hefeweizen
Stewart Brewing, Loanhead, Midlothian, Scotland.
330ml glass bottle

We also featured a bonus fifth (non-schwarz)beer on the podcast – Stewart Hefeweizen. The Stewart Brewery based just outside the BeerCast’s home city are obviously no stranger to us – yet although we’ve reviewed most of their beers, we’ve never actually featured any on our BeerCasts. A good chance to make amends for that was when Steve Stewart gave us some pre-release samples of their brand new hefeweizen. We put out a detailed review as part of the 45th Session on wheat beer, but at the time of recording, this was our first taste of the new beer. It has since become publicly available following a launch at Edinburgh’s Cloisters pub on the 16th of November.

What They Say
“Fermented with a classic wheat beer yeast this is a cloudy, complex and beautiful beer with aromas of cloves, banana, blueberries and subtle spices.  A blend of Maris Otter, Wheat, Oats and Caramalt combine to create a creamy texture and a golden hue.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Shovels – Tastes more Belgian, the spice comes out in the aftertaste 8
Richard – Warm it tastes of custard creams, cloves and pear too
MrB – Smells and tastes of bananas, very highly carbonated 7
Grooben – Got a hint of pear, there’s complexity when it warms 7

– (clockwise from top left) Grooben, MrB, Shovels, Richard

BeerCast panel verdict
Kulmbacher Mönschof Schwarzbier 33½/40
Rogue Morimoto Black Obi Soba Ale 31/40
Stewart Brewing Hefeweizen 29½/40
Matt Brewing Co Saranac Black Forest 27½/40
Hummel-Brau Cowboy Schwarzbier 19/40

  • Listen to the episode here: BeerCast #53 – Schwarzbiers
  • Subscribe to the podcasts in iTunes or our Site Feed
  • Please keep those comments and emails coming in, and check back in a couple of weeks for our 54th BeerCast…the final ‘regular’ BeerCast of the year, before our annual Christmas Special, and then the excitement of our 2010 Beer of the Year Show. Who will make it? Stay tuned…

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