26 September 2016

Scoop creep

Decent dark lager for home drinking can be hard come by in these parts. Dublin's Czech pubs are a handy source of draught Herold Tmavé, which goes a long way towards scratching the itch, but you can end up feeling left out when you feel like staying in. Then I got a recommendation of a cheap-as-chips schwarzbier sold in Lidl so I picked up one of those and noticed a couple of other German offerings alongside and decided I'd make a mini session of it.

I waited for a sunny day before tackling them, mainly because the radler kinda demands it. It was only when I took it out of the fridge that I noticed Landbräu Radler isn't even German: it's Austrian. At 2% ABV and less than €1 I wasn't expecting much beyond refreshment. And I'm not sure it even delivers that. Though authentically cloudy it's extremely sweet, sickly even, and the lemon aspect is more detergent than zest. There's no citrus bite, and that fatally harms its ability to quench thirst. I drank it quickly at fridge temperature and still found it tough going so I dread to think what happens to this once it begins to warm up. Best avoided.

On then to the more serious Festbier, from an unnamed brewery in Baden-Württemberg. It's a delightful auburn colour, darker than I'd expect for a German märzen or festbier and resembling more the heavier American approximation of this style. The head piles up enthusiastically on pouring, then settles to a fine, tight layer of white mousse. An impressive aroma unleashes a heady torrent of green noble hops, luscious and grassy, and screaming to be slurped down. A soft texture helps make that possible: light carbonation lending it a creamy smoothness with no hard fizzy edges. Malt dominates the flavour, the classic moist cakey sweetness of strong German lager, with a richness that almost veers towards milk chocolate. Those hops are reduced to a minor supporting role adding a mild metallic tang to the finish that just about qualifies as balancing. Four mouthfuls cleared the half-litre and much as it hit the spot I'm not sure I'd be on for opening another straight away: it's just a little bit too heavy for session drinking, even though the ABV is a relatively modest 5.5% ABV. It's a very well-made beer, though, no question.

So I was all keyed up for opening the Schwarz Bier, weaker at 4.9% ABV, an opaque cola-brown and not in much of a rush to form a head. The aroma is mild but promising, offering more grassy hops but also a pleasantly bittersweet liquorice twang. As expected, it's another unfizzy beer, which is in its favour, but the flavour is quite muted. Caramelised sugar is at the centre and I was expecting a supporting cast of bitter hop bite and dry roast but they never really materialise. It tastes as though corners have been cut, in a way that the Festbier definitely does not. Thankfully the sweetness doesn't build as it goes, so it remains easy drinking all the way down, but there's very little that's distinctive or interesting about it. Inoffensive, sessionable, but not a great ambassador for the schwarzbier style.
Edited to add: I'd be reasonably confident that outside Oktoberfest season this is also sold as Perlenbacher Schwarzbier.

I guess I lucked out with the Festbier. A good lesson in why it's always a good idea to buy the two beers either side of the one you went in for.


  1. Interesting. One of the things that living a dozen years in Franconia has learnt me is how diverse Festbier can be. The 6 or 7 (?) Munich breweries' Oktoberfest beers seem to be what most people think German Festbier should be like: sweet, pale, bland, and nearly Bock-strength strong. It's well documented that 30 years ago, the Munich Ofests were different beers to today's, more like what you've found with the stuff from Baden-Württemberg. But they dumbed them down for the tourists, to make them more "poundable".

    Anyway, there are dozens, if not hundreds of Festbiers brewed at different times of the year (i.e. not only in March, so not only "Märzenbier") for different local fests, and they can vary from modern-Munich-Oktoberfest Pils-golden to nearly black. This one of yours sounds like any number from Franconia: 5.5% and dark brown.

    If you're really curious about Festbier, plan a trip to the Annafest in Forcheim in July. There are about 10 such beers from mostly small local breweries, though a couple of larger ones. Only one or two approach Oktoberfest's blandness, the others are rich and complex, mostly malty, and a couple are even quite well-hopped.

    (I just blathered on about this last week at the Draft Mag webbie: http://draftmag.com/where-have-all-the-good-oktoberfests-gone/ hope you don't mind this spamming your blog)

    Autumn and winter/Xmas Festbiertime is coming. I should gather some examples up and put together care packages for curious beer bloggers.

  2. Thanks Nick. I probably should have known better than to mention styles as I'm aware how fluid these ones can be.