Sunday, June 3, 2007

Dark side of the Moon

There’s just something seductive about black. Tell us that a lass decked out in elegant black and trimmed with some well-heeled boots wouldn’t grab your attention and we’d call you a liar. Or dead.

Well we love black and we’re not dead, and those are just a couple of reasons why a beer that dances in the dark caught our eye at New Brunswick’s Harvest Moon Brewery Café.

This is not just any obsidian brew. This raven has lager contours and an accent that’s refreshing, inviting you back for more.

And right now, she can be yours.

Paint it black

This is schwarzbier, that cool German cousin of ale-leaning stouts and porters. It’s a beer style whose most well known example is probably Köstritzer, but Samuel Adams and Saranac have been known to paint it black, too.

Schwarzbier (auf deustch, schwarz = black, bier = beer, duh) traces its roots to 17th century eastern Germany (Saxony). That’s all well and good if you’re fielding questions on “Millionaire” or “Jeopardy!” (Bonus trivia for a college town: Goethe supposedly favored Köstritzer in his stein.)

But we’re talking about a Jersey bar and your glass, so just know that Harvest Moon brewer Matt McCord has chalked up a fourth incarnation of schwarzbier on the pub’s lineup for this spring/cusp-of-summer time of year that usually finds folks returning to the pub at their Belgian wit’s end.

“It’s our summer option for people who want to enjoy a darker beer,” says Matt, whose own palate tends toward English ales, and whose labors have put plenty of stouts and porters of all inflections into the pint glasses of Moon patrons.

Brewed in early spring, Matt styled the schwarzbier with German malts – deriving that deep inky color with chocolate malt and roasted barley – and jazzed it just enough with Czech hops (Saaz), while turning in an ABV of just under 6%.

That’s a little more robust than the typical 4-and-change -to-5% ABV of a schwarzbier, Matt concedes, but his beers tend to run a notch or two higher than what the beer fetishists say is style. And honestly, to drink this beer you wouldn’t know it's elbowing that envelope. Nor would you care since it has an easy-drinking, thirst-quenching quality you’d expect from the lager it is.

So it’s no wonder that among the Moon’s specialty beers, the schwarzbier has earned a following at the establishment, located along a bustling block of George Street just off the center of town.

“Last year we didn’t do it and caught a lot of heat for it. People came in and asked for it, so we weren’t going to make that mistake again,” Matt says.

Doing that would be just plain ... lunacy.

About Harvest Moon:

With 30 specialty beers that can be stirred into the mix of six house beers (including an IPA, America pale ale and a red), plus a roster of seasonals, there’s a lot to like about Harvest Moon. Not to mention the fact that the pub’s within walking distance of the train station, and its growler prices are a comparative bargain at $15 and 10 bucks for refill. (Some brewpubs command $18 before the $10 refill, while others can hit you up initially for $24). On Fridays in the summer, the pub taps a keg of fruit-flavored Belgian wit to feature through the week. Later this summer look for Matt’s take on a saison.