DRAFT PICKS: The glories of Dark Lager
Considering that one of the brews being reviewed this week is categorized as a “Euro Dark Lager,” I thought it might be worth our while reviewing this style of brew in very basic terms.
For a the better part of 150 years, lagers (or at least the majority of them) have largely fallen into the category of “Pale Lagers.”
This is because back in the mid-1800s an Austrian brewer worked with ingredients that created a lager beer which drifted away from its dark roots, and lightened in color to range from darker yellow to a lighter copper color.
Previously, a darker version of beer – sometimes referred as “Vienna Lager” — swept the U.S. This style of brewing traveled to North America with Austrian and German immigrants.
Darker lagers really ruled the brewing world until Prohibition knocked out most of the smaller, local breweries.
Those breweries that survived Prohibition often returned to the commercial brewing operations with pilsners or light lagers.
The darker varieties of lagers almost disappeared for a good while, but they didn’t disappear altogether. Today, a good many brewers — like Sam Adams – include a dark lager or Euro lager in their menu.
These darker lagers are generally a touch more full-bodied than the lighter version. They are usually more malt forward and more often than not have a pretty low level of hoppy bitterness.
Some of the more industrial brewers darken their lagers with caramel coloring. Many micro-brewers use specific malts to create a darker beer with heartier taste.
For explorers starting a journey into the world of craft brewing, a full-bodied dark lager can often be a gateway into the world of heftier ales, but many beer aficionados swear by the genre as it stands alone.
Some of the more popular dark lagers available in this area — as suggested by the good folks at Beer Advocate — include:
• Guinness Black Lager
• Leinenkugel’s Creamy Dark
• Heineken Dark Lager
• San Miguel Dark Lager
• Black Licorice Lager – Short’s Brewing Company
• Big Rock Honey Brown Lager
• El Steinber Dark Lager
• McSorley’s Dark Lager
And more than 200 other such brews!
Enjoy this week’s suggestions.
El Steinber Dark Lager
Anderson Valley Brewing Company
It’s not too often that I can get really enthusiastic about recommending a beer. I mean REALLY enthusiastic.
There are a lot of good brews out there, and I certainly do regularly recommend, and even recommend some highly.
But once and a while you bump into a beer that is just sooooooooo good.
This is one of those times.
El Steinber is a dark lager that pours a rich brown, almost a darker copper color with sparkles of garnet red popping out when held to the right light. You might describe this as getting quite close to a light mahogany color. There was a good half-inch of head in my schooner, which slowly dissipated leaving a rich lacing along the sides of the glass as the level slowly settled.
I didn’t find this dark lager too bubbly.
There was a rich and welcoming smell of roasted malts with a defined hint of nuttiness. There was a certain sweetness in the aroma. The caramel malts were in evidence, but by no means overwhelming. Even a careful scenting doesn’t necessarily reveal too much about the taste.
I found the taste richer than the aroma – full bodied, smooth, crisp and very refreshing.
The roasted malts are definitely forward in this brew with a muted chocolate character. There is little hoppiness. In fact, it is tough to pick up on the hops at all.
There was a slightly smoky quality ... just a touch. There also is a hint of nuttiness but nothing that dominated this carefully blended beer.
The fact that this is a dark lager and not an ale will be surprising to some, and exciting to many.
El Steinber carries all the best qualities of a fine dark lager while at the same time displaying hints of a well constructed traditional ale, (even a suggestion of a mild porter).
I very much enjoyed this excellent dark lager. Don’t be turned off by the fact it is served up in a can. I found no tinniness or metallic taste whatsoever.
I would, and will buy this Anderson Valley offering again – at the drop of a hat.
If you like the darker lagers, you MUST try this one.
Shiner Ruby Redbird
I’m not generally partial to the more fruity beers.
This is fruity.
But, honestly, it isn’t half bad.
Ruby Redbird is brewed with a dose of ruby red grapefruit. Now that may not sound too inviting to some, but the grapefruit really doesn’t dominate the brew. If anything, I found this offering to be a little watery and weak, but ...
Redbird pours a darker yellow, a bit on the orange side of the color scale. There really wasn’t much head, and what did form disappeared pretty quickly.
There is a very, very interesting aroma to Redbird. The citrus from its grapefruit roots is easily picked up on, but there is also a very expressive shot of ginger tucked away in the mid-region fighting to get out. I found the gingery smell exciting since I am a big fan of ginger drinks in the first place. (Look. I grew up in Detroit. Vernor’s is in my blood!)
I suppose some purists might not appreciate what could be considered conflicting aromas. I guess I’m just a bit more forgiving.
The taste test bursts on the palate with the ginger and citrus tones making themselves very obviously known. You can’t miss it. Thankfully, Redbird takes on the more pleasing qualities of a well-sweetened grapefruit, and little – if any – of the bitterness.
I really enjoyed the sense of ginger that lingered throughout.
Now, some may very well not appreciate the idea or the taste of a purposefully mixed citrus fruit with a mildly hoppy beer (shandies aside). Despite my general disdain for fruity beers, this was quite refreshing and I really can’t complain about the balance.
I don’t know that I would hurry out to buy a six-pack, but I certainly wouldn’t turn down a return offering.
I guess the best couple words here might be “pleasantly interesting.”