Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing finally brought us one of their flagship beers; the only dark beer in their core brands, actually. I’m really digging this 1554 Black Lager as it’s a study in contrasting styles.
See, up until recently this beer had been known as “Enlightened Black Ale.” No changes made to the recipe, so which is it then; ale or lager?
Turns out it’s both. 1554 is made with lager yeast but brewed at the lower-end of the ale temperature spectrum. Its “enlightened” nickname came about due to Texas beer classification guidelines that state beer over 4% ABV must be called either ale or malt liquor. New Belgium originally went with the ale moniker but decided recently to keep things simple and call it what it is… black lager.
There’s a story behind this beer as well. As I understand it, a couple of brewery employees traveled to Belgium to track down a copy of a beer recipe. Theirs had been lost in a flood in the late 90’s. They discovered a book – purportedly printed in 1554 – containing what they were looking for in a library’s rare book section. They were instructed to only read the book; no copying, no pictures, handle with care.
They were promptly kicked out of the library and barred from returning ever again. Hey, what are you going to do when you’re desperate and having a tough time making sense of ancient languages and measurements?
1554 has been in New Belgium’s line-up ever since but only just reached our shores. Black Lager is a perfect style for someone wishing for a more robust flavor profile but doesn’t like the intensity of porter and stout. It’s Dark Sienna in color with garnet highlights around the edges and a pancake batter head that lasts for a couple of minutes. Scents are sweet and buttery with toasted nuts, caramel cream and cocoa powder. Flavors start off woodsy and earthy but quickly become leafy hops and raw pecan with a café au lait finish.
Clean-bodied yet flavorfully-balanced and not solely malt-driven, 1554 is a great example of a beer that is the best of both worlds.