I live for surprises, especially when it concerns beer.
Years ago, I remember having my glass filled with schwarzbier from a lady dressed in a dirndl during a German beer festival. After one sip, I couldn’t help but reconsider everything I had ever known about beer.
The first thought that popped in my mind was, “Is this what good beer is supposed to taste like?”
Don’t get me wrong, I relished beer at the time, but I wasn’t yet a devoted disciple. When I first tried schwarzbier, I felt like the clouds opened and Dionysus, the God of revelry, launched me on a lifelong pilgrimage laden with good beer. If you think I sound dramatic, you’ve probably never tried this style of beer.
Schwarzbier, which originated in Germany, translates directly to “black beer.” This dark beer typically is dominated by a rich malty aroma and embraces notes of chocolate and nuts.
Despite being a medium to full-bodied beer, it doesn’t stick in your gut like porters and stouts might. It’s surprisingly light for what it is, like a dunkel, another dark German beer. The first documentation of schwarzbier goes back to 1390 in Braunschweig, Germany, with a beer called Braunschweiger mumme.
If you’ve been following my beer column for a while, you might have picked up that I lived in Braunschweig, which translates to Brunswick in English, as an exchange student for two different summers in high school. I walked (well, mostly biked) the streets of this medieval town, passing through the Burgplatz (Castle Square) and drinking beer after school.
The nostalgia engulfed me when I picked up a growler of Wrecking Bar Brewpub’s “May the Schwarzbier with You” from Downtown Drafts in Gainesville. Yes, if you’re wondering, the name pays homage to the “Star Wars” satiric film, “Spaceballs.” You gotta love a good pun.
You can thank this year’s batch of May the Schwarzbier with You to Bill Arnold, brewer at Wrecking Bar in Atlanta. Staying true to its origins, Arnold said he brewed the beer with 100% German malt and even followed the German Purity Law (Reinheitsgebot), which calls for only four ingredients — water, malt, hops and yeast.
“The inspiration for doing it was to have another seasonal offering for Oktoberfest, and to brew something unique that not a lot of breweries were doing,” Arnold said.
As someone who regularly scours breweries and beer stores searching for new styles, finding an American-made schwarzbier is like spotting a piebald deer crossing the road — it’s rare and magical when it happens.
Luckily, Wrecking Bar’s schwarzbier lived up to my self-induced hype. It’s as smooth as Barry White’s greatest hits and offers pleasant hints of dark chocolate. Despite its unapologetically malty nature, this beer goes down easy and left me wanting a second glass.
Arnold said one of the keys to brewing a good schwarzbier is to “hit all the notes for the ingredients.”
“You want some malt presence and a little bit of roast and chocolatiness,” he explained. “You don’t want it to be overbearing or the roast to linger on your palate. You want the roast to be there and give way to some nice mellow hop characteristics.”
If you find yourself in Atlanta, I encourage you to swing by Wrecking Bar, located at 292 Moreland Ave. NE, and pick up some May the Schwarzbier with You. For those staying in Hall County, pop into Downtown Drafts on the square to try this scrumptious brew or even buy one store’s spooky Halloween-inspired growlers.
To view Downtown Drafts’ tasty offerings, visit downtowndrafts.net.
May the Schwarzbier with You
Brewery: Wrecking Bar Brewpub
Alcohol by volume: 5.5%
Bottom line: My nostalgia ticket to Germany