Beer geeks everywhere are talking about the small Scottish brewery BrewDog, and for good reason: despite being just a couple of years old — meaning very young — they’re already putting out some head-turningly good beers, and backing them up with a masterful PR game.
One of their recent nice moves on the marketing pitch: offering a sampler of prototype beers and asking drinkers to pick their favorites. Among the prototypes was Zeit Geist, “a 5.1% Black lager taking inspiration from the Czech classics.” As an imitation of a clasic Czech dark lager, it was just begging to be compared to three classics of the genre: Bernard’s speciální černé pivo, Bohemia Regent tmavý ležák and Budweiser Budvar tmavý ležák.
So how does the Scottish upstart compare to the old masters?
In terms of overall drinkability, I would say it wins. And in the case of Bohemia Regent and Budvar dark, Zeit Geist doesn’t just beat them — it pushes them in the gutter and takes their lunch money. Here’s how they stacked up.
Bernard speciální černé pivo: This beer had the nicest, fluffiest and longest-lasting head, pouring a very deep amber, almost black with a pronounced nose of Dutch cocoa. It was sweeter than Budvar but less sweet than Bohemia Regent, and much sweeter than Zeit Geist (more on this later). In the mouth there were notes of cocoa and biscuity malt. A great beer.
Bohemia Regent 12° tmavý ležák: This beer had the least long-lasting head and was lightest in color: deep amber, but far from black. There were cola notes in the nose and a gingery sweetness in the mouth. It was the sweetest of all four, with a clumsy, saccharine finish.
Budweiser Budvar tmavý ležák: This beer had the second longest-lasting head, fluffy creamy color, second darkest color, but the nose had weird cooked-vegetable notes. It had a thin body, and, in comparison to Bernard and Zeit Geist, was not terribly charismatic. It turned out to be the least appealing of all four, making me think that this was perhaps a bad bottle.
Brewdog Zeit Geist: Virtually identical in color to Bernard, though not as long-lasting in the foam department. The nose smells conspicuously like smoked malt, and there’s a pronounced Rauchbier taste in the mouth. Very nice, and reminiscent of their Rip Tide stout in the body with a strong astringence in the finish.
Bernard, as usual, was excellent; the Bohemia Regent and Budvar versions were disappointing. But here’s the thing: although I really liked Zeit Geist, I don’t think it tasted very Czech, certainly not like the other three beers, which easily stood together in a group: Zeit Geist was far more dry in the finish, far more of a German Schwarzbier than a Czech tmavý ležák. If I had known this, I would have compared it to Herold Bohemian Black Lager, one of the only dry dark lagers in the Czech lands.
In any case, it was interesting to see what Scottish brewers think a Czech dark lager should taste like. If I understand it correctly, Zeit Geist didn’t make the cut in the voting, so I’m not sure if we’ll ever see it produced: my prototype bottle, visible at the right of the picture at the top of the page, didn’t have a label or any means of identification beyond the cap. As it turns out, Brew Dog’s contest winner was a beer in the style of yet another country: Chaos Theory, an absolutely outstanding, extremely complex take on an hoppy, citrus-scented American IPA.