Fearful Symmetries

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12 January, 2016

Fear of the Schwarz: Midnight Star by Bull Falls Brewery



Last autumn I was duly impressed by Bull Falls' Oktoberfest. I learned that the Wausau brewery expanded in 2013 and the new digs allowed brewmaster Mike Zamzow to do decoction mashes a process that many German brewers swear by. Decoction means drawing a portion of your grain-water mixture, a.k.a. – mash, boiling it, and then returning it from whence it came. Practitioners say that the process gives life to rich, toasty melanoidin/Maillard reaction-y malty manna from heaven that can be created no other way. Others poo-poo the claim and point towards the malt itself.

Not being a brewer, I can't say I fall on one side or the other. As a drinker, I can say that many German biers have a malt taste unmatched by most American brewers. Decoction? Maybe.

Regardless, Bull Falls' has made a commitment to German bier styles and brewing methods. This coupled with the fact that I love schwarzbiers made me eager to taste Midnight Star, their Schwarzbier. I've been unable to find it in Madison but grabbed a four-pack last month when I was up in Stevens Point.

The schwarzbier is a dark lager and I struggle to define a difference between it and its cousin the dunkel. Both have relatively light bodies like a pilsner or helles despite having the appearance of a heavier brew such as a porter or stout. I tend to think of the schwarzbier as having more roasted grain flavors – like coffee or chocolate – than a dunkel yet these malt flavors are much more subdued than in porter or stouts.

Midnight Star pours a disturbingly light mahogany. While my photography skills are quite poor, I think you can get an idea of how light it is from my picture. For contrast check out a couple other schwarzbiers – here's Night Wolf from Valkyrie and Metropolitan's Magnetron. Midnight Star is clear but saw no bubbles inside the bier. On the other hand, I did get a nice ecru head on my glass that was frothy and luscious.

Things fared better with the aroma as the malt gave a really nice bready smell as well as some of roasted grains. Also in there was a hint of some grassy hops. Midnight Star had all the flavors that I expected of it. Malt dominated the medium-light body with coffee and roasted grain flavors being the most prominent but there was some sweetness underneath. I couldn't taste much in the way of hops but the carbonation added a little dryness.

The problem was that, although the requisite flavors were present, they were too weak. The bier was a bit watery.

While there wasn't a lot of hop flavor to be had, the finish was dry anyway owing to a smidgen of hop spiciness, the carbonation, and a paucity of malt for contrast. My glass was left with a goodly amount of Schaumhaftvermoegen with thin streaks all around.

Sadly, Midnight Star was disappointing for me. I very much enjoyed their Oktoberfest as well as their helles and was expecting good things here. Unfortunately the bier is simply too watery as I suspected from its light color. A schwarzbier ought to be a glass of Stygian gloom, not allowing any light to escape its depths just like a black hole. The malt flavors here, although tasty, are weak and watered-down, not just more subdued as in a dunkel.

Although I have no plans to be up north in the near future, I do intend to try this bier again when I can. This must have been an off batch.

Junk food pairing: Until it's proven that Midnight Star can deliver the goods, pair it with easy-going things like plain potato chips or pretzels.

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|| Palmer, 11:53 AM

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