Schmaltz Coney Island Lagers

Freaking delicious
By MIKE MILIARD  |  August 13, 2008
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In the summertime, things can get a little weird. The heat makes people act strangely. The haze and humidity transform objects on the horizon into shimmering phantoms. It’s fitting, then, that the latest offerings from New York’s Schmaltz Brewing Co. celebrate — as Elvis Costello once put it — the “other side of summer.”

The labels of Schmaltz’s Coney Island Lager series are emblazoned with paintings of real-life sideshow freaks from Brooklyn’s faded seaside mecca. That’s Heather Holliday, a gleaming scepter sliding down her gullet, on the bottle of Coney Island Sword Swallower. Snake-charmer Stephanie Torres canoodles with her 13-foot serpent on the Coney Island Albino Python. (The flagship Coney Island Lager is represented by a tattooed and pierced update of “Tillie,” the grinning imp who adorned the entrance to the boardwalk’s George C. Tilyou’s Steeplechase Park until mid-century.)

It’s more than mere marketing: a portion of every Coney Island Lager sold will go toward maintaining America’s premier oceanfront pleasure playground. And you should buy a cooler-full, because these are three fine libations, custom-made for a long day manning the grill or surreptitious sipping at the beach.

The Coney Island Lager (5.5 percent ABV) is a basic, classic style that, in this case, is just about as well made as they come: eight types of malt and six types of hops, all enlivened by a Czech Pilsner yeast. Pouring a handsome russet color, it offsets its clean malt sweetness with a more pronounced hop bite than most. It’s balanced, light without being ephemeral, and very refreshing.

Billed as a “Steel Hop Lager,” the Sword Swallower (6.8 percent) has a much more robust hop character than is typical for lagers: it’s enlivened with a floral, vaguely citrusy lupulin tang — nearly reminiscent of an IPA. It may be a mite potent for a lawnmower beer, but it’s a welcome spin on a somewhat staid style.

Finally, I was wary of the Albino Python (6 percent), if only because “brewed with spices” isn’t typically a selling point that gets me. But it ended up being my favorite. A resplendent lemon-yellow with a diffuse and lacy head, this so-called “white lager,” brewed with ginger, orange peel, coriander, and crushed fennel, is very reminiscent of a Belgian witbier: light, airy, and delicately complex.

The good news: once the season’s over you can move on to Schmaltz’s Freaktoberfest (a “blood-red” lager that weighs in, natch, at 6.66 percent), available in September and October, and then to Human Blockhead, a dark, strong (8.8 percent), “Tough as Nails Lager,” from January to March. Call it endless summer.

Schmaltz Brewing Co. Coney Island Lagers are available at better liquor stores for approximately $4.50 for a 22-ounce bottle.

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