I tend to think of Schell's as the Leinenkugel's or Point of Minnesota. A regional brewery that's been around since the mid-19th century and produces craft-lite brews. When I say "craft-lite" I mean they brew much less beer than Miller-Coors and styles beyond American pale lagers which are, to my taste, watery. It's like they try to sit on the fence by brewing something that has a good flavor but not a whole lot of it lest they offend the palates of people who think Grain Belt full-on gustatory assault. I think that this impression was fostered by having read reviews and by sampling the odd beer of theirs at the Great Taste of the Midwest. But recently I've read more about them and became intrigued. So I thought I'd give some of their beers a try and give Schell's a chance to set things right with my palate. The Gose-inspired Goosetown
was disappointing in that it deviated from style greatly but was eminently drinkable. Next up is Chimney Sweep.
Chimney Sweep, the brewery's winter seasonal, is a dunkles rauch (or is it a schwarzbier?) - a dark lager with some smoked malt in the grain bill. I love dark lagers. I love rauchbiers. I had to try this stuff.
It's a lovely beer with a deep reddish brown color. If you look at it in the narrow part of a glass, it appears clear and you can see that the carbonation is high. My glass got a big head but some of that is surely due to my hasty pour. (I was thirsty.) I also got some nice Schaumhaftvermoegen.
When I took a whiff I immediately smelled a honey-like sweetness. Considering that caramel popcorn was being made at the time, I am unsure how much of the aroma was from the beer and how much came from the oven. There was also that wonderful, magical smell of roasted grain which makes the dunkles the beer style of champions.
The taste of Chimney Sweep is the aroma inverted. With a medium mouthfeel, the roasted barley's coffee overtones were highlighted, though the lighter malts were present as well and, to my delight, this was no watered-down dunkles. The flavor was full and clean as a good lager should be. Underneath this was some smokiness as promised. It complemented the malt very well instead of competing for domination. If you're familiar with Karben4's Nightcall porter
, then I'd say the smoke flavor here is about 50% more than in that brew. While more distinctive in Chimney Sweep, we are still nowhere near Schlenkerla territory. It simply added a little smoky sweetness to balance the slightly bitter roasted goodness. As the end of my sip neared, I could taste a hint of a plum sweetness which I find to be more prominent in Hofbräu Dunkel and, I find, makes that bier highly distinctive (and incredibly tasty). The finish is on the dry side and some mild hop bitterness comes through here as well.
I was really taken by surprise by how good Chimney Sweep was. It is a clean balancing act of darker malts, lighter bread-like malts, smoke, some fruity sweetness, and hop bitterness. It's 5.2% ABV which means you can enjoy a few at a session. A great beer.
Junk food pairing: Chimney Sweep goes well with Old Dutch Onion & Garlic potato chips.
Labels: Beer, Dunkles, Rauchbier, Schell Brewing