North Country Brewing: Dark Ages Ale

North Country Brewing & Dark Ages Ale

ABV: 5.2

Rating: 3/5

This is Growly the Growler.

The North Country Brewery is a brew pub in downtown Slippery Rock (in western PA), and it is within walking distance of the campus. On any stereotypical poor college student budget, it is probably the best choice for craft beer for students in the area. The North Country Brewery has some of the cheapest and freshest craft beer in the area, but I would argue that their styles seem to cater to those with a more traditional and European taste in beer. Every month the Brewery, which is what most folks affectionately call it in Slippery Rock, offers a ‘fruit bowl.’ The fruit bowls are different from month to month, and I have only had the pleasure of trying their Strawberry Fields, which resembled the typical strawberries and cream flavor. One thing that people will notice about the Brewery is that all of the knickknacks and woodwork also seem to point to European influences, which correlates with the German theme of the bar and beer menu. The pricing for craft beer is where this place really shines. Most of the drafts range from $3.50-$4.50, during happy hour a twelve ounce draft is a dollar off, which should excite any poor college student. Filling up a growler is only usually $8-$10, but one will easily pay closer to $30 if they plan on filling up their growler with something like their Double Vision IPA or Pumpkin Ale, which are only available for a limited period. The food at the Brewery is simply sublime, featuring a versatile menu that can attract hipster vegans or omnivorous meat-lovers. Certain places on the menu feature recommended drinks for food pairings, but I do not have a solid enough knowledge base to evaluate this aspect of the restaurant. And one must also note the relativity of food pairings, for not every beer matches one type of food– different types of beer can go with a dish as well. The prices for the food may not be as low as their brews, but one will typically pay close to $8 or $10 for a superb meal.

Fur Hats have no effect on how the beer tastes-- they just look amazing.

Recently I met up with my old roommate at the Brewery for lunch, and I noticed a new brew on their menu that I have yet to try. Seeing how I am an adventurous little guy, I decided to try it, their Dark Ages Ale. The description of the brew claims that the beer is a schwarzbier, so I immediately texted 3 or 4 of my fellow beer nerds to help me figure out what are the traits of a schwarzbier. My friends all told me that a schwarzbier is the lager alternative to a stout or a porter. I figured I would ask the waiter about the beer, but all he could say is that the beer was a dark ale. Unfortunately most people can assume that a brew called “Dark Ages Ale” would be a dark ale. Talking to the bartender helped a wee bit, but he noted as well that it was an ale, yet this brew did not seem to have the same hop characteristics that a porter or stout would have. The bartender did explain to me that “schwarzbier” is German for dark beer, but most resources online such as Beer Advocate and Wikipedia point to the fact that schwarzbiers remain German lagers that work as an alternative to stouts and porters. No one online seemed to claim that schwarzbiers were ales, but perhaps this was a hybrid? I never quite solved this conundrum, and plan on discussing it with the brewers the next time I am down there. I will definitely post an update once I figure out the details of the brewing process for this beer.

North Country Brewing’s Dark Ages Ale pours a deep black, with a beautiful brownish tan head that seems to disappear gradually. I decided to fill up my growler at the Brewery, and on the second pour the head seemed to remain thinner, disappearing much faster. Whenever one fills up a growler, one should not expect the carbonation or the head of the beer to be as well-maintained as the draft. Not much is going on with the nose of this beer, but one can noticed a slight hint of roasted malts in the aroma, but not as much as other stouts and porters.  This brew exemplifies a good session beer, for this schwarzbier remains lighter but does not suffer from a watery body that a great deal of session beers do. Myriad brews with a lighter body seem to have a lack of depth in flavor, but this beer has personality. I would not say this personality is as unique as mine. But the personality of this brew is comfortable and cozy– nothing too crazy going on here. The beer has a smooth mouth feel, making it extremely drinkable when complimented by the light body of the brew. Their Dark Ages Ale does not have as much of a hop kick as other brews, which definitely seems to separate it from stouts and porters. This brew has a clear malt foundation to it, which mainly consists of roasted and dark malts, remaining bereft of coffee and chocolate malts. The menu said that “this black beer, a.k.a. Schwarzbier, was the brewmaster’s first recipe about 11 years ago. It is medium-bodied with a lot of chocolate and roasty character.” I have difficulty believing the menu’s description of this brew, for the roasted malts do not seem to overpower the brew and I find almost no chocolate malts here. Other critics have disagreed with me, but the chocolate malts are definitely working tacitly here. Ultimately, their Dark Ages Ale remains an extremely sessionable beer, that is appropriate for any time due to its drinkability. The next time I head down to the Brewery for a bite, I will not hesitate to grab one of these in between my classes. But for those who are not in the area, there are so many other session beers in the craft beer scene that I am sure someone could easily find a better alternative. But I will admit that it is nice to have a session beer that focuses on darker malts with a slight roasted flavor to it.

-The Jesse Jennings

  1. October 9th, 2011

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