My most recent Vue Weekly review (which you can read here) is a study in complex simplicity. Yes, I am aware that is an oxymoron, but bear with me. The article is a review of Bernard Dark Lager, a relatively unknown beer from a small Czech brewery only recently arrived in North America.
I make the claim it is an example of complex simplicity because I was struck at how the beer offered a full array of enticing flavours and aromas but the overall effect was clean, balanced and highly, highly drinkable. During my sampling I identified toasted bread, toffee, chocolate, coffee, nuts as well as some hop bitterness. Yet, each sip went down with an elegant straightforwardness. This is a beer designed for drinking. I respect just how hard that is to achieve.
Bernard Dark is a nice reminder that a beer doesn’t need to be over the top to impress. Clean, a nice balance of flavours and a refreshing finish. Truly a nice beer.
The column may also be somewhat controversial because I take the huge liberty of defining it as a “Czech Dark Lager”. Of course, no such style exists in the BJCP or the various professional association competition guides. You could fairly argue that what I call a Czech Dark Lager is simply a regional variation of a Dunkel. And you would be entirely correct.
I am aware I have spent a great deal of energy over the years trying to articulate how to conceptualize the notion of style. I have long argued it is a loose guide rather than a rulebook, that styles evolve and differing interpretations are valid. Under that logic, Bernard Dark Lager is simply a Czech interpretation of a Munich Dunkel. And I can live with that.
But in the column I wanted to pay homage to that particular interpretation of a dark lager. I wanted to link the flavours I tasted in Bernard to a longstanding tradition of Czech brewing. Czech dark lagers have long tasted different than their German cousins. I didn’t want that to get lost. So, in a way I took a liberty. But a justified one, I think. By framing it as its own sub-style I was able to draw attention to the uniqueness of the Czech brewing tradition.
My memories of Czech Dark Lager, as I mention in the column, are from many years ago, from when I had more hair, less of it grey, and a lot less knowledge of beer. But I am convinced that the dark lagers I drank during my trip to Prague twenty-some years ago tasted different than the ones I had in Germany and have had since. They were drier and a bit more bitter but don’t lose that great European malt sweetness (from decoction, possibly?).
So, in part, I am very happy to have re-found that particular flavour profile after 20 years of searching. And it was a good opportunity to tip my hat to the “other” Czech brewing tradition, lost in the glow of Czech Pilsner. Even if it isn’t entirely accurate.