These are strange days for seasonal beer drinking. As I type away at this late December date, topped in a T-shirt and bottomed in cut-off jeans, Brooklyn, New York temperatures are boiling toward 70 degrees. Torrential rainstorms have muddied the ground, and joggers and cyclists are legion. There’ll be a blizzard in hell—a possibility, given the topsy-turvy weather—before I elect to drink an imperial stout, barley wine, or holiday ale spiced with grandma’s bathroom potpourri.
Actually, unseasonable weather is simply the fall guy—I almost never want boozed-up beer. Give me crisp pilsners, salty-sour goses, or low-alcohol IPAs that make me work real hard to achieve inebriation. As for stouts and porters, I’ll take those too because here’s a simple, often ignored truth: just because a beer is dark doesn’t mean it’ll sit on your tongue, or knock you asunder like a doorknob-stuffed sack.
Beer often colors outside the expected lines.
... just because a beer is dark doesn’t mean it’ll sit on your tongue, or knock you asunder, like a doorknob-stuffed sack.
Take Guinness. The Irish dry stout is as stygian as they come, absorbing all light attempting to pass through a pint. Alcohol-wise, the Irish ale is a relative lightweight, a dainty 4.2 percent ABV—you know, the same strength as Coors Light. Calorie-wise, it’s just a bit more of a belly hit. Fact is, every drop of alcohol contains calories. Stronger beer? More calories! Weaker beer? Fewer calories! (If you’re watching your weight but still want a beer, there’s no need to subject yourself to a six-pack of Michelob Ultra; opt for one or two fuller-flavored beers.)
In addition to the Irish dry stout, my favorite fool-the-eye style is the schwarzbier (pronounced "shvarts-beer"; schwarz is German for "black"). Born in Germany at a time when all beers were dark by default, the centuries-old lager is an inky looker, initially mistaken for stout’s second cousin. Crack a classic like Köstritzer, though, and you’ll soon note that lightness lurks in the dark. Flavors of chocolate and coffee are offset by a bit of sweetness, the carbonation pleasantly fizzy, the finish clean, dry, and crisp. Better still, a smooth schwarzbier’s ABV often rides in around 5 percent (hello, moderation!), and the beer is friendly with burgers, roasted meats, holiday ham, and other hearty fare.
In short, a schwarzbier is my ideal everyday winter drink.
Lagers have long been the stock and trade of New York's Brooklyn Brewery, which debuted in 1988 with its eponymous Brooklyn Lager, a floral-fragranced amber brew that packed enough rattling bitterness to differentiate it from the country’s predominant, and pretty bland, lagers. In time, the brewery's stable expanded to a German-style pilsner, plus beers like East IPA, Brooklyn Brown, and Black Chocolate Stout, an imperial stout that deserves a pedestal as one of America’s best. (Pro tip: Buy an extra four-pack and age it for a few years in your closet. You’ll thank me in 2018.)
The lager drinks incongruously creamy, almost like chocolate babka and a cup of not-too-strong coffee with one sugar.
As a Brooklyn dweller, drinking beer from the borough’s preeminent brewer was a rite of passage, right up there with ordering sandwiches through a bodega’s bulletproof window and prying discarded chicken bones from my growling dog. Brooklyn’s beers were a constant till slowly, then quickly, I embraced West Coast IPAs, creations from local upstart Sixpoint, and every of-the-moment beer I could find.
Brooklyn Brewery became the old friend, the one full of fond memories that you always forget to call.
Over the last couple years, though, I’ve begun reconnecting with the beer maker. It started with Sorachi Ace saison, made with its lemony namesake hops, followed by the dad-strength ½ Ale, my go-to lunch beer. I started ordering the inventive, draft-only Brewmasters’ Reserve series, such as the Fiat Lux white IPA and Wild Horse Porter, galloping with funky Brettanomyces yeast. (Equally estimable are the bottled, barrel-aged Brooklyn Quarterly Experiment releases.)
Which brings me to Brooklyn’s newest fall-winter seasonal, Insulated Dark Lager. Slowly tipped into a glass, the lager is dark brown, veering on oil-black, with a beige head happy to hang around. There’s roast on the nose, accompanied by citrus zest and an herbal, spicy tingle. The lager drinks incongruously creamy, almost like chocolate babka and a cup of not-too-strong coffee with one sugar. The bitterness is steady, never overwhelming, lasting long past the dry finish. And when it’s gone? I’m eager to repeat the experience.
Insulated Dark Lager is most moreish, a beer complex enough that it never bores, but restrained enough, alcohol-wise, to stay a daily staple. Consider the lager protection from insobriety, humdrum drinking, and winter’s chill, should it ever icily arrive.