The dunkles/schwarzbier are two of my favorite bier styles. I adore the various grainy flavors that these biers have. Malty sweetness is kept at bay here in favor of more savory ones that range from the lighter roasted flavor to the coffee and chocolate tastes of those grains subjected to the purifying flames for longer periods of time. I've struggled here to determine exactly what the difference is between the two and, as best as I can figure, the schwarzbier is a darker and more deeply-flavored dunkles. It's got more roasted grain flavors including those of very dark malts including coffee and chocolate. Not that they're thick and rich or any such thing, just that they have a bigger flavor while retaining the nimble drinkability of a pilsner.
Green Bay's Titletown Brewing Company
has been making Dark Helmet for several years and it won a bronze medal at the 2009 Great American Beer Fest. The bier appeared in bottles beginning in February in the brewery's hometown and I believe they finally made their way to Madison last month.
Since neither style is especially popular, I was quite pleased to hear that A) Titletown was going to be bottling Dark Helmet and B) that they brewed a scharzbier in the first place. Their pilsner
duly impressed me so I had confidence that they could brew a tasty schwarzbier when I bought my six-pack.
means "black beer" in English and Dark Helmet certainly looks that way in a glass with its deep, dark sepia appearing schwarz. Although I couldn't tell until I got to the end of my glass, the bier is clear. My pour gave a rather large, tan head, about half of which can be seen in the photo, that dissipated fairly quickly. I expected it to be very creamy but it leaned towards the foam on soda or champagne. This bier really put the schwarz in schwarzbier so I was unable to see if there were any bubbles inside.
If I had any reservations about Titletown's ability to brew a lager, they certainly eroded when I put my nose to work. It had a big roasted grain scent with some bitter chocolate underneath and just the barest hint of malt sweetness. The taste was similar with bitter chocolate and roasted grain being joined by a little bit of coffee. The clean lager taste gave only the faintest hint of stone fruit sweetness that was complemented by the subtle taste of grassy hops which gave very little bitterness.
On the finish those grain flavors slowly faded as the grassy hop flavor was joined by a spicier one. The hops never got much past mild and the same went for their bitterness. Just enough to see the malty tastes on their way. My glass was left with only a few spots of Schaumhaftvermoegen
All doubts about Titletown's competency to brew lagers well should be laid to rest. Dark Helmet is a very tasty brew indeed. It has a nice medium body which I thought was lighter than Sprecher Black Bavarian and heavier than Köstritzer. While full of rich, roasted grain flavor and slightly chewy, it doesn't weigh on your tongue; this is not a sweet beer. I really loved the balance of malt tastes here with toasted grain never overpowering nor being overpowered by the coffee and chocolate flavors of darker malts. There is more bitterness here from dark malts than you'd find in a Köstritzer but it's not at porter levels. My Platonic ideal of a schwarzbier would be a touch drier with a little more hops and carbonation but Dark Helmet is still a fantastic bier and a most welcome addition to the shelves of Madison bottleshops.
Junk food pairing: Grab a bag of Snyder's Bacon Cheddar pretzel pieces to go with your Dark Helmet. The slight smokiness of the bacon flavoring will complement the roasted grain flavors of the bier.
Labels: Beer, Schwarzbier, Titletown Brewing Co.