Fearful Symmetries

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13 December, 2016

You Got Fruit Juice in My Dunkel!: Bavarian Dunkel by Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company



At some point around the middle of last month I continued hot and cold relationship after seeing a new brew at my local bottle shop – Bavarian Dunkel. Most new Leinenkugel brews seem to be yet another iteration in their neverending parade of shandies. Yet here was a nod to the German roots of the venerable Chippewa Falls brewery. Reading the label, however, engendered hesitation as it noted that the bier was "Brewed With Natural Fruit Juices". Was this the first step towards the shandification of the dunkel?

According to Chris Drosner, Bavarian Dunkel replaces Snowdrift Vanilla Porter. This was a positive development to my mind as I found that beer to be syrupy dreck. Still, fruit juice in a dunkel?

It's not so much that I have a preternatural disposition against such a pairing as much as it is an anxiety over who it is introducing this novelty. This is Leinenkugel, after all, the brewery that has twisted and warped the poor shandy from being a simple, pleasant mix of ginger beer or lemonade and beer into the Boone's Farm of craft brewing. This experiment could be tasty or it could be Kool Aid.

Regardless of Leine's shandymania, the brewery is certainly no slouch and can whip up a fine brew. And so it's no surprise that, on appearance, at least, Bavarian Dunkel is shining example of bier. At casual glance, it is a stygian cupful, with a deep, deep copper color. I couldn't discern clarity but I am confident that is was clear as the style demands unless the fruit juices muddied the waters. The head was tan and creamy, lasting 30 seconds or so. Since light could barely penetrate the darkness, I couldn't tell what the bubble situation was like inside.

The aroma was full of dark chocolate and roasted grain like a good dark bier but the fruit juices – blackberry and elderberry as Mr. Drosner discovered – made themselves known. I thought of sour cherry. Mild grassy hops rounded things out.

I am guessing there weren't a whole lot of bubbles to be seen as the carbonation was restrained. However, this allowed bitter chocolate to step to the fore with roasty grain and faint coffee trailing. There was a slight fruity sweetness which tasted malty in addition to a moderate berry-like fruitiness. Elderberries are very tart and so I'd say this tasted more of blackberries. The hops linger in the background adding only a touch of bitterness which melded with the chocolate and, I'd bet, some elderberry tartness.

At the end the bier's choco-fruitiness was joined by some spicy hops which added a sprightly sheen of mint. There was no shortage of Schaumhaftvermoegen with thick streaks aplenty adorned with spots of foam all around.

With the first sip Bavarian Dark allayed my fears of it being an unearthly dunkel-shandy hybrid. It has a medium body with a nice creamy texture full of rich dark chocolate. The fruit juices are subtle and complement the dark grain flavors very well. Nothing overly sweet or cloying here. I wish more Wisconsin breweries steeped in the lager tradition would do something like this instead of abandoning it for pastures of tropical fruit eyepahs.

Junk food pairing: Being the new winter seasonal, Bavarian Dunkel will be around for a spell. Well, at least until next month when summer seasonals come out. You'll have some time, at least, to enjoy one with a bag of Jay's Barbeque potato chips. The BBQ dust has a smoky side that goes well with the dunkel side of Bavarian Dunkel but also a dash of sweetness to complement the berry juice. On the sweet side gingerbread cookies are everywhere these days and also pair well with it as they have a nice pungent earthiness to them that I like with the roasted grain flavors in the bier.

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|| Palmer, 6:33 PM

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