On the other side of town my wife and I have found the best German food outside of her native Alsace, a place called Max’s Allegheny Tavern where we enjoy Schnitzel Lichtenstein and rabbit or a sausage plate for me. WIthout exception, over the thick German sauces we choose a fine black lager, or schwarzbier, from Kostritzer, served from the tap in mason jars. How do you describe a black lager? It looks like a stout but comes across more like a light ale, with a dry bitterness that complements thick sauce on a schnitzel perfectly.
Historically schwarzbier constitutes one of the happy discoveries that occurred when the west and east finally reconciled their differences over the broken pieces of the Berlin Wall. Like a barely-remembered and believed-extinct species Black Lager survived communism and has only begun to penetrate the west. Michael Jackson (the other Michael Jackson) has this brief travelogue from schwartzbier country:
While in Leipzig, I was very taken with the Schwarzes Bier as rendered by the city’s small (35,000-hectolitre) Bauer Brewery.
This beer has a purply colour so dark as to be almost slatey; a malty aroma; and solid flavours reminiscent of liquorice toffee. Despite its bigness, it slipped down easily. Its original gravity is 1046-7 and alcohol 4.8.
The Bauer Brewery was established in 1881, and its founder’s great-great grandson continued to work there during Communist rule. In 1990, the family regained control, and the following year the black beer was introduced as a speciality, in a range that also includes a Helles (pale lager), a hoppier Pils and a Bock. This year, Bauer hopes to open a brewery tap.
My nose hasn’t yet developed to the point where I can offer a credible review, aside from heartily recommending a good schwarzbier with German cuisine or dessert, but you don’t need me when you can peruse dozens of informed reviews at the Beer Advocate. The upshot: recommended.
Today’s non-beer alternative is McEwan’s Scotch Ale, an excellent example of the full-bodied variety made by those francophiles at the northern end of the British Isles.
A wee dram won’t do it
But, you say, McEwan’s is beer. Piffle. McEwan’s tastes like they made it in scotch barrels from which they forgot to take the scotch out first. A great six-pack, if pricey, which I regret that I haven’t yet found here in PA.