Welcome back to FTW’s Beverage of the Week series. Here, we mostly chronicle and review beers, but happily expand that scope to any beverage that pairs well with sports. Yes, even cookie dough whiskey.
Marzens are the king beer of Oktoberfest, but they’re not the only proper German brew you can raise as the leaves begin to change color. Enter the Zwickelbier.
Zwickels are unfiltered lagers with the carbonation and crispness dialed up. They’re a variation on kellerbiers — cask-conditioned unfiltered beers — that range closer to a clean pilsner than a hoppy ale. The final product is a proper transition from the lighter summer tastes of hefeweizens and kolsches that takes a seat at the marzens’ right hand before we descend into the darker beers of winter.
That’s probably a bit much. In reality they’re good any time, I just happened to find some this week.
My experience with these beers is admittedly limited. The only place I know that features a Zwickelbier as a flagship offering is St. Louis’ Urban Chestnut. They do a pretty dang good job with it, too.
But when I had the chance to try Radeberger’s limited edition Zwickel, I jumped at the opportunity. And I expanded my portfolio to include the German brewer’s 150th anniversary pilsner as well as two of its non-alcoholic beers sold under the Clausthaler brand.
Let’s see how they taste.
Radeberger Zwickelbier: B+
The pour is lovely; Blonde and white with an aroma that kicks off some hop pellets and a little bit of bread. The first sip is … well, damn. I don’t like to use “clean” as an adjective to describe how something tastes because, you know, what the hell does that mean? But this tastes cleeeeaaaaaannnn.
There’s a simple crispness within; you get a little hops but not enough to be bitter. You get a little malt but not enough to be a marzen. The finish is light and breezy and a proper amount of carbonation leaves a dry taste behind.
As a whole, it’s great. It’s balanced and tasty and grainy and hoppy and generally a really likable beer. It’s mellow but complex, with a lot of low-key drinkable flavor developing throughout. I like Zwickels, though I rarely find them. This might be the best I’ve had.
Radeberger Pils: B
The minor hops of the zwickel are way less notable here; they exist, but they mostly serve to snap off each sip instead of serving as a specific plot point. This tastes exactly like a proper pilsner; undeniably beer-y, easy to drink, and juuuuust a little bitter. There’s grain and malt in balance, creating a versatile, jack-of-all-trades beer.
It’s a little less appealing as it warms up. It’s not bad, but it’s a little …. not skunky, but less crisp, a little more coloring outside the lines? That feels like a stupid way to describe a beer, yet here we are.
Clausthaler NA: C+
That’s the taste you get off the top, too. This tastes like a legit lager, and while it isn’t one of the better ones I’ve got to imagine that’s pretty good for a NA beer (though, technically, it clocks in at 0.5 percent ABV). There’s no bitterness or burn, but it’s tough to shake the idea you’re drinking anything but malt water. And while that’s a good thing when you’ve got a good, roasty malt, this is a little closer to cold cereal.
That’s not bad for a change of pace or if you’re looking to replace alcohol in your diet without losing the ritual. It’s fine, which is high praise for a boozeless beer, I suppose.
Clausthaler Dry Hopped NA: C+
The hops show up as mild bitterness that frames the beginning and end of each sip, with the malt carrying each gulp through the middle. It’s more complex than the basic lager of the regular NA. It also holds up better as it warms than the first round, which is a nice feature.
It’s still mostly forgettable, which is still decent for a boozeless ale. Like it’s predecessor, it hits enough of the right notes to be an able fill-in. While the calorie count is still a bummer for a 0.5% ABV beverage — 96 for the regular and 89 on the dry hopped — there’s enough flavor here to make it worthwhile if you’re done drinking for the day.