This evening was a first for Trappeze. We tapped two casks in one night and they we both from The Duck-Rabbit brewery in Farmville, NC. Duck-Rabbit Brewery is the self-proclaimed ‘dark beer specialist’ and they have stuck to their guns in an industry that views pilsners and wheat beers as an imperative to a successful production brewery model. Furthermore, they have ventured beyond the typical dark beer to include some off-the-beaten-path styles that are largely over-looked by todays craft brewers.
Paul and Ryan from Duck-Rabbit prepared two special casks for the evening: the first was a cask of their soon-to-be-released Schwarzbier and the second was a cask of their brown ale that was dry hopped with Citra – a newcomer hop that boasts bright lemon/grapefruit notes and presents like an ultra Cascade. Both casks were among the best ever tapped at Trappeze and did much to reinforce our enthusiasm for the job that our North Carolina neighbors are doing with great beers. After the commotion of the tapping ceremony settled down, I dove into the Schwarzbier right off the bat. This little-known style has been a favorite whenever it has found it’s way to our taps and tonight was no exception.
The Schwarzbier is a German-style black lager that is made with mostly Pilsner malt and enough black patent, roasted, or chocolate malt to give it a deep color and a tasty roasted flavor. This doesn’t take as much roasted or black malt as you might think – perhaps less than 5% of the total grain bill will suffice to create this wonderful rich, roasted lager that still maintains a light, agile body and, blindfolded, would pass for a fine German Lager any day. This style has suffered from a bit of an identity crisis in the US as many beer drinkers associate color with the density or ‘heaviness’ of a beer. The Schwarzbier brings us the best of both worlds as it delivers a deep, complex malt profile while also being distinctively light bodied. Duck-Rabbit’s Schwarzbier pours mahogany-brown, as one would expect from a Baltic Porter, yet is light bodied and refreshing. Deep notes of dark chocolate emerge through the finish of each sip and are complemented by a complex array of herbal and resinous hops. Each sip is exceedingly rewarding and finishes with a crisp dryness that invites you to partake of yet another delicious sip.
I understand that this style likely has limited marketability as the average US beer drinker has been inundated with messages of low-calorie drinkability – but I submit to you that this may well be a style that deserves your attention. There are very few domestic producers of Schwarzbiers (or Black Lagers) – worth mention is Fort Collins Kidd Lager and Sprecher Brewing Company’s Black Lager, but more appear on the market every year. In many ways they satisfy the itch for something large and complex while also delivering on the promise of refreshing quaff-ability. This variant of the Munich-Dunkel style originally found favor with German ale drinkers desirous of clean, crisp lager beers with rich malt profiles. This marriage of dark malts and bottom-fermented lager beers has existed since the mid-1500′s and like it’s wheat counterpart, the Dunkel Weiss, continues to be a favorite among European beer enthusiasts. It is exciting to see U.S. craft brewers exploring these esoteric styles and developing variants that are both true-to-style and excellent.
Any night you tap a cask it is much like opening a special gift from a friend. In the case of the brewer, even they do not know exactly what you will get. There is a risk on their part that is taken. Some casks are tapped and pour flat and murky, others emerge as an especially excellent version of their creation. Tonight was certainly one of the latter.