Who says dark brews aren't for summer? For anybody who might think such beers are too heavy for hot weather, a new release from Capital Brewery challenges those assumptions. Fishin' in the Dark, created by assistant brewer Ashley Kinart, is a classic German lager known as a schwarzbier. Labeled "imperial" as a nod to its strength and firm favor, it's a good catch for craft beer fans.
What is it? Fishin' in the Dark from Capital Brewery of Middleton, Wisconsin.
Style: The schwarzbier is a German dark lager named for its black color. This style of beer looks imposingly thick and heavy, but it's actually medium- to light-bodied. There's a moderate maltiness with hints of caramel and chocolate, but overall the flavor is clean and not cloying. Some dry roasted coffee tones are also characteristic, but schwarzbiers should not have a burnt-bitter or astringent taste. They will have low hoppiness, and are considered a well-balanced beer. They range in strength from 3.8-5% ABV.
Fishin' in the Dark is called an "imperial" schwarzbier to indicate that it is stronger and more flavorful than a standard example of the style. In recent years, beers labeled "imperial" by American craft brewers reflect a trend towards more aggressive brewing that emphasizes bolder flavors and higher alcohol content, and sometimes a melding of traditional style expectations.
Background: Ashley Kinart is the first woman to create a beer from start to finish for Capital Brewery. Given this background, Fishin' in the Dark has been creating a lot of buzz in the male-dominated craft beer business, but the development of its recipe had little to do with the gender of the brewer.
"I only get one beer for my first beer, and I wanted to do something that I wanted to drink," says Kinart, who is 30 years old. Working at Capital for just shy of two years, she graduated from UW-Madison in 2007 with degrees in biology and Spanish, and then later traveled to Germany to study brewing.
The decision to make a schwarzbier was influenced, at least partly, by Kinart's time in Munich in 2011, when she earned an international brewing diploma from the Chicago-based Siebel Institute of Technogy. Like many young brewers working in the American craft beer scene, she went looking for a way to put her own twist on German traditions. The brewers there can be strict when it comes to adhering to style definitions, while many in the U.S. relish experimenting and pushing the limits on recipes.
"I wanted to have a lot of the traditional flavors," explains Kinart, "but at the same time, the best part about brewing in America is that you can do whatever you want, with whatever you want."
"She had a vision in her head and made it happen," says Capital brewmaster and production manager Brian Destree. "We told her she had free range to do whatever she wanted."
For Fishin' in the Dark, Kinart crafted a ramped-up imperial recipe for a German black lager that showcases Wisconsin-grown ingredients. The base grains, which make up over two-thirds of the grist, were grown and malted in Wisconsin, while its Sterling hops were supplied by Gorst Valley Hops of Mazomanie. The beer took about five weeks to lager and finishes at 7.5% ABV. That's rather strong for a schwarzbier, and so this brew lives up to its imperial moniker.
"It's really exciting but a little scary at first," says Kinart about her first solo brew. "Walking in the day of brewing and seeing the pallets and pallets of malt and thinking this is all for my beer was a surprising feeling," she adds.
The choice of Wisconsin-malted barley was important in determining the beer Kinart set out to achieve. "I knew I wanted to use Wisconsin ingredients. So with that base malt everything changed," she explains. That triggered her selection of other malts like Munich and a dark variant called Blackprinz that is known for its roastedness without strong bitter or burnt flavors. Both were essential to achieve the flavor expectations for a German schwarzbier.
"I really like balance in beer," says Kinart. "When things start to get too malty and too sweet, that turns me off. And while I like hops, it can be crazy with bitterness."
Kinart's ultimate goal was to make a distinctive beer, one that would make the drinker think about the experience. "I was really going for a dark beer made for warm weather," she says. While these brews can be mistaken for being too big, strong and heavy for summer, Kinart set out to dispel that notion: "I'm enthused about dark beers and a big fan of drinking them year-round."
Fishin' in the Dark is available in four-packs for $10. When on tap at the Capital Bier Garten, it sells for $6 per glass and $18 per growler (refill).
- Aroma: Lightly malty with hints of roasted chocolate maltiness.
- Appearance: Black with bronze highlights. A medium soft and tan head.
- Texture: Medium to full bodied with roundness and softness.
- Taste: Malt-focused. A firm chocolate maltiness with a light roastedness in the background.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Lightly malty, balanced and clean. Just a hint of warmth.
Glassware: Fishin' in the Dark looks heavy because of its dark color, so it's worth finding a glass to show off that beefy look while still reminding the drinker it's a beer in the lager family. I like a heavy-footed pilsner glass, one with a slight inward taper near the lip to focus the light malty and roasted qualities of its nose. Then again, if this beer is getting taken on a fishing trip, it's easily enjoyed straight from the bottle.
Pairs well with: Pork and venison are great companions to a schwarzbier. Its malty tones of chocolate and light caramel blend well with meats that offer a sweetness on their own. For summer fare, it's a nice beer with brats prepared on the grill.
Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: The schwarzbier can indeed be a great dark beer for summer. Heck, it's a great style for anytime. Kinart's instincts are right on target with Fishin' in the Dark. With its malty yet clean flavor, body and balance, this schwarz is a great creation for the season. It's also distinctive enough to attract attention on taps and store shelves overcrowded with seasonal light beers and hop-heavy selections.
Fishin' in the Dark has a firm malt-forward flavor with smooth chocolate body and a light roasted malty accent. It looks heavy when pouring it into a glass, but, as intended, it's not that heavy on the palate. This beer is balanced, and the finish is clean without lingering elements. Because of its 7.5% ABV, though, this is hardly a summer session beer, the only seasonal drawback to its distinctive and appealing character.
Another reason to like Fishin' in the Dark is what it stands for -- a well-made beer by a young up-and-coming local brewer. Kinart has certainly put her "imperial" signature on a German standard and deserves credit for coming up with her own interpretation, reflecting the evolving approach by an upcoming generation of American craft brewers. Kinart is one to watch.