Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews



Style: Doppelbock
ABV: 7.2%

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

Looking at my calendar for the month of February led me to a couple of realizations very quickly:

1) It’s International Beer Month at, a tradition dating back to 1894, and in my Top 50 of favorite things to do in during the month of February.
2) There’s no way in Hell I’m going to have time to review anything this month, much less an international offering … I only have American stuff on hand right now.

Then the blizzard came. Suddenly, Nigel had some unexpected free time on his hands.

With that, after digging out I headed to the nearest purveyor of fine suds, which fortunately is only about a mile away (18 inches of blowing, drifting snow can put a crimp in any travel plans). While browsing the shelves, I decided to go with a couple of old familiar offerings, as I did mostly Trappist Ales last year. That led me to my first selection, the well known Optimator, from one of Munich’s most famous breweries, Spaten-brau.

My first experience with Optimator came way back in my burgeoning beer days, circa 2002. During this time, I was slowly branching out from the typical college shit beer (in my defense, I was actually in college at the time) and into “gateway” brews like Leinenkugel’s, Goose Island, Guinness, and Newcastle. Not the greatest beer, but better than the Icehouse and Miller Lite I had been drinking. One day while feeling risky, I picked up a sixer of Spaten Optimator, not really knowing what I had.

When you consider the shit beer I had been drinking and the gateway brews I listed, you realize they all have something in common: ABV’s that are typically less than 5 percent. Optimator’s ABV? Over 7 percent. You can probably imagine how the evening went after I was on about my fourth. The good thing about that unexpected bout of drunkenness was it was yet another step in my beer renaissance, as I learned a bit about what a real, authentic brew with higher gravity was all about.

Optimator is a doppelbock, a traditional brew created and perfected by the Germans, and, in my opinion, taken up another notch by American craft brewers. Many brewers that specialize in German-style brews focus on the doppelbock as a crowning brew in their lineup; locally, Madison’s Capital Brewery comes to mind, as they have a variety of doppelbocks that are truly phenomenal. When I first tried Optimator, I didn’t know a doppelbock from a doppelganger, so I’m going to have a much more educated opinion this time around.

Spaten Optimator pours beautifully, with a thick, creamy head that permeates from the glass, settling brilliantly to a very nominal lace on top of a dark brown brew with a touch of ruby red and no murkiness to speak of. Aromas are strong, with the most noticeable being a thick, dark, sugary aroma and a slight tinge of German hops. A strong secondary aroma of warming alcohol is also present.

As for the flavor, it’s better than I remember, a very good sign considering how little I knew about beer at the time. At my first drinking, I didn’t know any of the intricacies of beer, so to me it was just a dark, strong brew that was a bit much. This time around I’m tasting a pretty damn good doppelbock, though far from the best I’ve ever had. Initial flavors are wonderful thick, sugary malts heavy on caramel and molasses, with a slight touch of coffee and vanilla in the background. A nice, earthy undertone comes through at times, mostly in the way of roasted barley malt that is so often present in dark German brews. A kiss of European hops adds to that earthiness, as well as providing a touch of bitterness. The beer warms you in the end with a hint of alcohol, not all of which is masked in this 7.2 percent brew. Regardless of that final zip, the overall drinkability is smooth, with only a slight aftertaste. It’s a sipping beer for sure, but right in line for a powerful style.

I certainly gained a renewed respect for Spaten Optimator. While not the greatest doppelbock on the market, it’s a very solid, tasty beer that is both powerful and balanced, soothingly sweet with a strong bite. While I’ve never been to Munich, I continue to build more and more respect for what is truly one of the most important beer cities in the history of the world. If you’ve never tried Optimator, it’s worthy of a sample and helps ease the chill of the Blizzard of 2011.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on February 7, 2011.
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