State control of breweries in Eastern and Central Europe following World War II proved to be a mixed blessing. Whilst many companies suffered from a lack of investment, others prospered and were guaranteed a market for their products through a strict regional control of distribution. This meant that some beers that survived easily could have perished if left to their own devices in a more competitive environment.
This seems to have been the case with Köstritzer Schwarzbier. The Köstritzer brewery has its origins in the 15th century, in the spa town of Bad Köstritz, near Weimar. A new brewhouse was added early in the 1900s, but, with the postwar division of Germany, it found itself confined in the Soviet Bloc. When Germany was reunified, the business was in urgent need of a cash injection. This came courtesy of the Simon family, owners of Bitburger, who acquired the business in 1991. They took a particular interest in the Schwarzbier. The Bitburger brewers saw the potential in this unusual beer, but they felt it needed a little life support. They took a long, hard look at the recipe and decided to make some changes, the most substantial of which was to raise the strength from a flimsy 3.5% to 4.8%. Today, the beer is produced from pilsner malt, Munich malt, and what the brewery describes as “special malt.” Hops come from the Hallertau region.
This beer pours well, leaving a good couple of centimetres of tan coloured head. This dissipates slowly leaving a good lacing to the top of the bier. The bier, almost dark black in colour, has dark reddy browns showing through during strong light. It gives off mild caramel and chocolate aromas, the chocolate being very subtle. One aroma that is quite powerful though is the malt, punching through the others but not utterly destroying them. Upon the palette the malt once again comes to the fore, the sweeter caramel and a hint of coffee also linger. Some prune and dark berries accent these notes subtly offering a complex and interesting flavour. The bier itself being of a pilsner style has a refreshing taste much like a lager, but offers superior depth of flavour coming from the dark roasted malts, this leaves you with a clean yet slightly bitter aftertaste which is quite delicious.
At 4.8% the alcohol doesn’t really overpower the flavours on show here which for a crisp pilsner is quite refreshing. Being moderately carbonated, it lends itself well to a good session beer. A good lager for ale drinkers this one, full of flavour but more suited to being cold when the weather outside is blisteringly hot.