Back in 2014 Capital Brewery's
Ashley Kinart was given free rein to create a beer of her own devising and she delivered Fishin' in the Dark
, an imperial schwarzbier. That autumn she was promoted to brewmaster and promptly brewed Schwarz in a Box in time for the holidays.
Schwarz in a Box, as the name implies, is also a schwarzbier. I found a bottle of it last month and was a bit surprised that it had been brewed again as it seemed to have gone all but unnoticed last year. I poked around the Internet only to discover that my assumption was quite mistaken and that I had, in fact, purchased a bottle from last year. Not the end of the world, but something to keep in mind as you read on.
As I admitted in my review of Fishin' in the Dark, I'm not really sure how to define a schwarzbier. It's a dark lager but is not a big, viscous brew like a porter. Think a pilsner but dark in color and with the flavors of dark malts. So what's the difference between a schwarzbier and a dunkel? I'm not sure. I think a schwarzbier should be a bit darker in color and have more malt flavor, including a little sweetness, but is quite similar to the dunkel. A bigger dunkel, perhaps?
All of this is moot here because Schwarz in a Box is 7.6% A.B.V. and, like it's summer cousin, is an imperial schwarzbier. (Anyone care to venture a guess as to the difference between an imperial schwarzbier and a Baltic porter or dunkel bock?) But for the holiday season Kinart has infused the bier with spices. And so, keeping in mind that this brew is by no means fresh, here's what I found.
Schwarz in a Box pours a dark sepia that appears black in the glass. Looking straight on the bier is opaque but if you approach it at an angle, it seems to be clear. The small tan head went away rather quickly. Because the bier is so schwarz I had a hard time determining if there were any bubbles inside the glass.
The aroma lets on that this is no normal imperial schwarzbier. Orange peel and cinnamon were up front with some vanilla and perhaps ginger in the background. I found it odd that I could discern no malt. Thankfully the maltiness came through in the taste. Unfortunately, despite a medium body, there wasn't much of it. Cinnamon ruled the roost with the orange peel by its side. While invisible to the eyes, carbonation cut any potential sweetness out and added a little dryness. Pulling up the rear were the expected malt flavors of roasted grain and coffee.
Some spicy hops came through at the end and helped make for a pretty dry finish helped along by the carbonation and a late burst of cinnamon. A modicum of Schaumhaftvermoegen
lined my glass.
In short, Schwarz in a Box is like cold mulled bier. Mulled beer has been around for ages although it's not a trend that seems to have been embraced by American craft beer drinkers. Regardless of tradition, this bier will succeed or fail on its own terms. To my taste, it is the latter. The spices, especially the cinnamon, overpower the malt flavors here. I love dark lagers with their great blend of toasty/bready and roasted/coffee malt tastes. That mix is lost here in a miasma of spices. I have nothing against the theory behind this brew but the bier needs room to breathe.
So what was lost over the past year? If the beer had become excessively oxidized from age I'd expect a syrupy sweetness to it. But that wasn't present here and the bier didn't taste old to me - it simply tasted over-seasoned. I give Ashley Kinart credit for thinking outside of the box, so to speak, but I prefer it to have been more malty tasting. There's just not enough schwarz in this schwarzbier.
Junk food pairing: Schwarz in the Box pairs well with standard Christmas party kind of fare such as 7 Layer Dip Combos or Molten Hot Wing Ruffles.
Labels: Beer, Capital Brewery, Schwarzbier