Friday, November 02, 2007

Back in Black

In a move that I know will please a lot of Texas beer drinkers, the Spoetzl Brewing Company has revived Shiner 97, which it has rechristened Shiner Bohemian Black Lager. Dig the new bottle. Perfect for Halloween.

In case you don't remember, Shiner has been doing a series of limited-edition brews to celebrate the approach of Spoetzl's 100th anniversary – Shiner 97 marked their 97th year. I kept hoping that they would make one of the beers from this series a permanent part of the lineup, but actually I was hoping more for a revival of the 96 (an Oktoberfest marzen) or that they'll keep the 98 that's currently out (a Bavarian amber, and the best thing Spoetzl has ever produced). However, the buzz I keep seeing on the Internet is that 97 is the one that's been the big hit, so I guess I'm out of step with my fellow Texans.

Don't get me wrong – this black lager is pretty good. But as I wrote when it first came out last year, my main problem is that there are other breweries who do this style better. New Belgium's 1554 was my first intro to the style and still my favorite. And Xingu, from Brazil (no, seriously) is also great, as is the one produced by the North by Northwest brewpub.

If you're not familiar with black lager, it's not a stout or a porter — it's lighter, despite the appearance. This is definitely best if you let it warm a bit. Right out of the fridge, and you get this sweet effect that's kind of nasty. After letting it get to the right temperature, the roasted malts really come out. Unfortunately, it finishes kind of thin.

Here's my assessment: If you can get one of the other brands I mentioned (the 1554 is most likely), go for it; but if not, Shiner Bohemian Black Lager will make a fine introduction to the style.

(UPDATE: Okay, I'm starting to warm up to this a little more … by letting the beer also warm up. I find if I let it get up to almost room temperature, it's much, much better.)


Bob Hewett said...

Lee, sometimes I forget how much you still need to learn about beer

(That's why I drink so much: Education!)

First off, 1554 and NXNW Black Ale are ALES not lagers. Stouts and Porters are ALES. This is a black LAGER! It's delicious because it is dark malty, very drinkable, and thirst quenching. It is, however, not the same style. Ales tend to have more body and character than lagers. Lagers tend to be more crisp and smooth. This is a German Schwarz beer. 1554 is a Belgium Black.

I think that this was by FAR the best product Shiner has ever made. That's not to say that the other brews aren't better (they are), but they aren't the same style. I'd take the Black Lager on a hot day over the rest any day.

I guess I'll have to show up with a six pack to educate you some more!

Muddy Mo said...


Isn't "Schwarz" just German for "Black?" New Belgium calls their 1554 "Zwartbier"

The black beer styles that are neither porter nor stout seem to be rather sparse. Try doing a google search for Schwarzbier or "Black Lager" -Adams. You'll get Köstritzer, Ugly Pug and not much else. Try "Black Ale" and you get links to beers made out of elderberry.

Seems to me not only reasonable, but necessary to compare the NB 1554 Black Ale with the Shiner Black Lager. "BigHuge", one of the founding subscriber's at Beer Advocate said this about the NB 1554: "This is the closest Schwarzbier I've had to the Sprecher Black Bavarian, but it falls just short. Definitely my #2 schwarzbier."

Bob Hewett said...

Muddy Mo,

Ales and lagers have distinctive flavors. You would not compare a Golden Ale with a Pilsner would you or an English Pale with a Bock?

On the 1554 bottle they say that they found the unique recipe in Belgium. Black Lagers originate from Bavaria and Bohemia.

I'm probably splitting hairs here, because most Black Ales are probably Black lager recipes with ale yeast.

Either way the Kozel from Czech Republic or the Sam Adams Black Lager would be better comparisons.

Knowing Lee, he prefers the more robust ale to the smoother lager. That is really my point.