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Black Bavarian

Other reviews for this beer:
Eddie Glick one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer read it ›
Sprecher Brewing Co.
Glendale, WI

Style: Schwarzbier
ABV: 5.9%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Outstanding within its style.)

Pair With:
I’m intending for the following review to be very un-Nigel like, which can mean only one thing: it’s gonna be short (relatively speaking). Perhaps some of you are put off by the wordiness typical of my reviews, but my goal is to be both entertaining and informative, which means I break them down into two parts in order to fail miserably at both objectives. But I digress.

The reason for the brevity of this review, which is for Sprecher Brewing Co.’s Black Bavarian, is simple. Sprecher brews have been heavily reviewed by us here at (though I’m not entirely sure why they’ve received so much publicity), including many by yours truly. I feel I’ve adequately shared my thoughts on most of their brews as well as the brewery itself (if you missed them, browse our rated beers section). I felt it was necessary to review Black Bavarian, however, as I’ve referred to it in the past as Sprecher’s best brew overall, and it has yet to receive proper treatment from us. It’s hard to make continuous claims about the viability of a certain brew without giving it the detailed review it deserves.

Black Bavarian is a German-style schwarzbier, a somewhat obscure style that isn’t terribly common among American craft brewers. In German, “schwarzbier” literally means “black beer,” and the style is characterized by its dark color, which resembles a stout or porter. Schwarzbiers are typically not as heavy as those styles, and if brewed properly can make for a surprisingly light beverage despite the relatively menacing color. Sprecher has had their biggest success when dealing with darker beers (Barley Wine, Doppelbock, Winter Brew, etc.), so it’s no surprise that this German-inspired brewer has hit a home run with its German-style black beer.

Black Bavarian pours splendidly into my official Sprecher Weiss tall glass, which provided a nice volcano effect. A thick tan head billows up from the bottom of the glass, quickly rising to the top and providing an initial froth of about an inch and a half. The impressive head settles rapidly, leaving a slight creamy trace throughout the remainder of the drink. It’s definitely a black beer, as it looks as dark and oily as the thickest of stouts … a misleading appearance for a beer that proves to be a tasty, friendly brew rather than a thick, complicated monster.

The aroma proves to be the sole Achilles heel in Black Bavarian, as it’s both weak and not terribly pleasant. Malt dominates, mainly of the smoky, roasted variety, with secondary hints of chocolate and coffee. There’s a certain stale smell in the aroma as well, one that I can’t quite pinpoint. Part of it is likely attributed to a decent addition of Noble hops, as schwarzbiers tend to be somewhat hoppy despite their appearance. I’d say part of it is alcohol, but I’m not convinced of that since it checks in at a very manageable 5.86 percent ABV. Ultimately, it’s likely the result of a combination of the various malts, hops, and yeast, but I don’t find it very agreeable.

The taste quickly redeems this brew, as it’s both flavorful and well-balanced. As you would expect, oodles of malt come cascading through at the beginning, led by a strong roasted, smoky taste. While smoke may dominate the flavor, it’s not nearly as strong as you’d find in an Irish stout, rauchbier, or smoked porter; it’s far more tolerable. A strong secondary flavor of coffee comes through next, as does a noticeable flavor of unsweetened chocolate. While malt is the primary player (both sweet and earthy), there’s also a noticeable hint of grassy Noble hops, an interesting flavor juxtaposition that you don’t typically find in dark beers. Dark fruits are also detectable toward the end of the session, mainly a tart black cherry and raisin. As if that’s not enough, there’s a subtle earthiness that results from the yeasts, and it’s finished off with a slight alcoholic zip. As the beer warms, the initial overwhelming malt begins to fade, and the hops, yeast, and dark fruits come more to the forefront. This is remarkably complex in flavor, and they’re all balanced brilliantly. Medium in body, it’s far lighter than you’d expect based on the color, though it’s still heavier than many golden brews. Very smooth on the palate, Black Bavarian goes down nicely and makes a perfect winter session brew due to the moderate ABV.

Finally, Black Bavarian has received its proper due. While we’ve had mixed experiences with Sprecher in the past, Black Bavarian is, in my opinion, the clear-cut cream of the crop. Available year-round in Sprecher’s trademark 4-pack, 16 oz. stubby bottles, this is a must-try for any lover of good beer and a nice change of pace for those who can be overwhelmed by the thickness and strength of many dark beers. Unfortunately, Black Bavarian deserved so much credit that it completely ruined my attempt at a short review.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on February 10, 2008.
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