Schell’s Chimney Sweep and Snowstorm 2012: Bière de Noël

A while back I wrote a piece in the Growler magazine about beer tickers. In it I discuss how the relentless quest for what’s rare and new is shaping today’s beer market.

Gone are the days when it was enough just to make good beer. Now brewers have to constantly innovate to garner attention. Fail to do so and they become passé, regardless of how good their standard line-up may be. Old-school brewers whose reputations have been built on solid examples of classic styles find themselves pushed to produce boutique beers or risk irrelevance.

And so it is that a 150-year-old brewery – the second oldest family owned brewery in the country and a pioneer of American craft beer – releases no less than four new brands this year.

The brewers at Schell’s have been busy. Spring saw the release of a new full-time beer, the hopped-up Emerald Rye, and Czech Dark Lager, the fifth beer in the Stag Series lineup. Fall brings another Stag Series Beer – Fresh Hop Citra Pils – and another full-time release – Chimney Sweep. That’s in addition to the annually-altered seasonal Snowstorm.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand Schell’s regular lineup is great. Theirs is one of the best Pilsners available. The seasonal Hefeweizen is phenomenal. Firebrick is a go-to beer for me. With such a solid stable, they shouldn’t really have to constantly introduce new brands to keep beer lovers’ attention. On the other hand, Schell’s makes great beer. More brands mean more great beers to enjoy. It’s a double-edged sword.

At any rate, the brewers at Schell’s have been busy. Chimney Sweep and the 2012 Snowstorm hit shelves just in the last couple of weeks. I finally had the chance to give them a try.

Here’s my notes:

Chimney Sweep
August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: Smoked Schwarzbier
Serving Style: 12 oz bottle

Aroma: A little bit of chocolate. A little bit of spice. A little bit of smoke. It’s not the bacony smoke of a traditional rauchbier. It’s more of a campfire smoke; that smell of your jacket after a night by the fire pit.

Appearance: Full, long-lasting, rocky, beige head. Dark brown and clear.

Flavor: Malt dominates with bittersweet, dark chocolate and campfire smoke. The smoke is prominent, but not at all overwhelming. Moderate pilsner-malt sweetness is perfectly balanced by moderate bitterness from both hops and roasted grains. There is some floral and citrus character from Sterling and Liberty hops – my two favorite varieties – but it is subtle. Super balanced. Finishes with a flourish of hop and roast bitterness.

Mouthfeel: So creamy. Medium body and medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: I tasted this last night and as I type up my notes right now I find myself craving a glass of it. Alas and alack, it is only 8 am. Too soon to start drinking when there’s work to be done. Chimney Sweep is wonderfully balanced and easy to drink, and yet so full of flavor. If you’re a person who doesn’t think they like smoked beers, this might be the one for you. It’s smoky, yes, but subtle.

Snowstorm 2012: Bière de Noël
August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: Bière de Garde
Serving Style: 12 oz bottle

Aroma: What an interesting aroma. So much going on. Bread, herbs, honey, and brown sugar. Multiple fruits – green banana, red grapes, apples, a touch of fig. Belgian yeasty cotton candy. Horehound. Brings to mind the candied fruit in a loaf of fruit cake (I like fruitcake). Complex, layered, and changing.

Appearance: Medium-dark amber/orange and crystal clear. Good stand of rocky, off-white foam that falls quickly leaving a lace around the edge of the glass.

Flavor: The flavor follows on the aroma. It’s malt-forward and sweet, but with a dry finish. Bread crust, dark honey, and a bit of biscuit. Belgian cotton-candy sugar and yeast character. Loads of herbal notes – almost like a gruit. Touch of tartness comes in in the middle, but it’s not acidic. Bitterness is low. So much fruit – red-skinned Apples and orangy citrus. Cinnamon. White pepper traces in the finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full body. Medium-high carbonation. Some alcohol warming.

Overall Impression: What a festive beer! This screams the holiday season – sugar, spice and everything nice. It’s more Belgian yeasty than most bières de garde I have had, but that’s a-okay. To me it falls somewhere between a dubbel and a quadruple; it’s too full and fruity for a dubbel, but not strong or sweet enough for a quad.

Leave a Reply