Beer Sherpa Recommends: Köstritzer Schwarzbier
This is a slightly sneaky post. While I do come to praise Köstritzer, I also want to celebrate the opening of the Stammtisch Bar on NE 28th and assure folks that it's as good as billed. They have a spectacular line-up of 18 (!) German biers on draft. For this post, I was forced to choose from among some of my faves--a Schlenkerla (Helles), Ayinger Maibock, Andechs Hell, Schneider Edelweiss, to name just a few. You can find these beers in the bottle, but it's a rare treat to have a nice pour--into a liter mug if you want it--just like you would in a pub in Munich. There's a heavy emphasis on Franconian and Bavarian breweries, which suits this helles-lover just fine. The selection seems to rotate pretty quickly, a practice that will reward regulars.
But I choose to highlight Köstritzer, one of the rare beers that fits a person's mood no matter if it's 20 degrees outside or 90 (Fahrenheit). It is frothy and light yet assertive and roasty--the best of all worlds. It's an enduring standard in the Alworth household.
Like so many of the old German beers, Köstritzer's originally makers were monks. They founded a monastery at Bad Köstritz in 1543 (which highlights another distinctive feature of German beers--they are very often named after the town of their origin). Lagers were a Bavarian thing, so the dark beer they brewed in the town, not far from Leipzig, was an ale. Lagers came late to Köstritz--typical for ale country--and the brewery didn’t shift from ales until 1878, nearly 100 years after the monastery had been secularized. In an interesting twist on the usual story, though, the second world war, usually the destroyer of beers, may actually have helped preserve the style; Bad Köstritz, located in East Germany, continued to make the obscure roasty beer until reunification. In 1991, not long after the wall came down, Bitberger snapped up the brand and has been making it since. (Bitburg has its own fascinating history, but that's a different post.)
Köstritzer manages to be at once assertively roasty while maintaining a delicate caramel sweetness. The color of cola, it has a top layer of coffee-like roasting quite similar to an Irish stout; the palate is complex, however, and licorice, chocolate, and port all add distinctive notes. Perhaps most impressively, the beer finishes dryly, leaving no lingering flavors; the finish is so complete you almost immediately raise the glass for another taste.
If you live in Portland, go have a pint of it at Stammtisch, but never fear--Bitburger has made sure it is readily available in the bottle for those of you who live farther afield.