The ur-hefeweizen and one of God's gifts to beer lovers (although, ironically, the Franciscans never actually owned the place). This, the lighter of the two flagship beers, is as serious as a Jesuit yet as playful as St. Francis frolicking with a chipmunk. Notes of alder smoke, rancio, wheat chaff, complex hops, and providential goodness. A world-class brew, period
New Zealand's nearly ubiquitous export from the Lion-Nathan group is nothing if not drinkable—just the beverage to revive you after a lusty afternoon of sheep-shearing. The impeccable mouthfeel is this beer's forte: it’s soft and almost caressing. Gentle malt tones prevail, while the subdued hopsy notes are blended well into the background.
A deep, meaningful pilsner from French Polynesia. Who knew you had to go all the way to Tahiti for a great lager? The predominant tone is malt, malt, and more malt, but there's also the pitch-perfect balance and the positively succulent mouthfeel. And where do they get that distinctive touch of persimmon? A primo beer by anyone's standards.
A Düsseldorf style that’s low on alcohol (4.2 percent abv) but high on taste. The generous nose is full of honey and treacle and a tiny hint of molasses. The color is the same dark, shimmering brown that was offered as a color option on the ‘79 Cadillac Eldorado. Rich yet very dry on the tongue, with an astringent finish. The flavor is the haunting double of those bitter hard candies flavored with horehound.
Not to be confused with Elmer Bernstein, the film composer, this coppery German brew comes from the town of Schwelm; Bernstein is simply German for “amber.” There's the scent of clover honey in the air from the minute you pop the neat swingtop.
Schwelmer Hefe Weizen
The cloudy appearance is murkier than an essay by Hegel, but thankfully this stuff is much easier to swallow. On the tongue there's a shrill chorus of citrusy-spicy flavors in which tangerine sings soprano and mandarin orange alto, backed by a choir of allspice, nutmeg and clove. A hint of bituminous coal lingers in the aftertaste. Complex and rewarding.
Local Hero: Bräuerei Schwelm
It’s a story that’s happened too many times: a large corporation purchases a small, local brewery, and then announces that they’re closing it down. Sometimes, beer lovers fight back.
In the year 2000, when the large German brewing concern Veltins announced the imminent closure of its recently-purchased Bräuerei Schwelm, in Germany’s central Westphalia region, the news was met with a tidal wave of popular sentiment about the loss of local history and culture. Entrepreneur Dr. Rolf Lohbeck, who had lived in Schwelm his entire life, decided to save the historic brewery, which had been founded by an innkeeper in 1830. Dr. Lohbeck and his wife Heidrun purchased it and invested 5 million Euros into a new lagering hall and bottling line, becoming local heroes in the process. The Schwelmer Fan Club, created at the same time, now boasts 11,000 members.
“Almost from the beginning, the plan was to bring the beer to the States,” remarks Lars Dahlhaus, president of Bräuerei Schwelm’s ad hoc Brooklyn-based import company, Schwelmer Beer Imports North America. Dahlhaus, himself a native of Schwelm, is excited abut the success the Schwelmer beers have enjoyed since their launch at the end of 2004. “We’re one of the few growing beer brands in Germany,” he says, “with a commitment to import our own beers into the States.” Just after the brewery inked a deal with an American import company, the importer filed for bankruptcy, so Bräuerei Schwelm decided to go the do-it-yourself route. Getting through all the legal hoops was a nightmare: “If I’d known in advance, I would have hired a full-time lawyer,” Dahlhaus laughs.
Since acquisition by Dr. Lohbeck, Schwelmer has introduced some newer recipes, including the amber beer called Schwelmer Bernstein (meaning amber). While common in American craft breweries, amber beers are “not so common in Germany,” says Dahlhaus, who is working on a trademark for the name Bernstein. German tradition still reigns in the Schwelmer Alt, a beer style closely associated with the city of Dusseldorf, not far away. A Pils and a wheat-based Hefeweizen round out the current import line-up (see reviews).
Schwelmer introduced swingtop closures on all its beers in 2002, and more recently rolled out handy 11.2-ounce versions of the same bottles, among the first swingtops in the States in this smaller size. The stylish labels with their eye-catching type and graphics really put the finishing touch on this portfolio of excellent brews.
For distributors, contact Lar Dahlhaus at 718-218-6610.