19 August 2006

KOTBR Review #2: Spaten's Optimator

The Knights of the Beer Roundtable, with guest 3rd judge, Jim, gathered at The Rathskeller Thursday evening for a review of Spaten's Optimator. The Optimator has a higher ABV of 7.2%, so it can jump up and kick you in the ass if you drink too much or drink it too fast.

Interesting fact: Spaten beers are the No. 1 selling authentic Bavarian beers in the United States, which means that the beers are completely unaltered. They are identical to the beer you would be served in Munich. All Spaten Beers adhere strictly to the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516, or known in German as the Reinheitsgebot, which was enacted on April 23, 1516 by Bavarian Duke Wilhelm IV.

Jim: In the interest of disclosure, I have to begin by noting that Spaten’s Optimator is one of my favorite beers, and this is coming from someone who does not drink a lot of German beers. Whenever I go to the Rathskeller, it’s my beer of choice. So, what I have to say about Optimator will be anything but impartial. Before I begin, I’d also like to thank Chris and Jason for inviting me to tag along. I enjoyed finally getting to meet them in person.

I’ll start with the nose on this dark brown lager, which is somewhat metallic to me. Taking a sniff of an Optimator vaguely reminds me of what pennies would smell like if they were wet or what the side of a boil kettle must smell like. This might not sound like a pleasant odor, but it is actually nice. So, I would use the phrase “pleasantly metallic” to describe the nose on this beer.

As for the taste – Optimator is very malty, has little bite, and is extremely smooth. It’s a beer that rides well in the front of the mouth and leaves very little aftertaste. It has slightly sweet caramel notes to it, which makes it very easy to drink for those of us who love malty beers.

For those new to Optimator, a warning – This beer, at 7.2% alcohol by volume, can sneak up on you if you’re not careful. It will give you a nice buzz that can quickly turn into a sledgehammer if you overindulge. Therefore, if you’re ordering it for the first time at the Rathskeller, I suggest that you go for the small size and take it slowly. While a slower drinking pace will let your Optimator get warmer, this is not a beer that’s meant to be served or enjoyed ice cold. Like many ales from the British Isles, Optimator’s flavor actually improves if it’s not served super cold.

A final note – If you want to pick up a six-pack, Kahn’s Fine Wines & Spirits on North Keystone sells it cold.

Jason: I am Catholic in upbringing and German in descent; it should be no surprise to anyone that I like to drink. A lot. And it should be no surprise that a big German-American like me enjoys drinking big German-style beers. So you know that I love drinking at the Rathskeller. And most anything from the Kellerbar will get a thumbs-up from me.

The Spaten Optimator doppelbock is no exception. It has everything that I would expect from a malty beer: tastes of toffee, coffee, and chocolate. But unlike other beers where these flavors really stand out, the Optimator blends the flavors together really well into one cohesive flavor. Thankfully for me, it took a lot of beer drinking to identify those flavors!

Visually, it is dark brown and dense with a dense, foamy head. Much like the flavor, it was difficult to find a specific scent in the aroma. It was pleasing, but unidentifiable to me.

When drinking the beer, there is a fair amount of bite on the front of the tongue, which is a little surprising for a beverage as malty as this. The bite lingers in the aftertaste. Which isn’t a bad thing; it isn’t unpleasant. It’s just different. In the aftertaste, there is also a sensation in the back of the throat that I couldn’t identify right away. I found the same sensation when I took in the aroma.

It wasn’t until the next day that I figured out what I was experiencing. The sensations in my nose and in the back of my throat when drinking the Optimator is very similar to those sensations when I smoke a good cigar that has a balance of flavor and bite.

The Optimator was very creamy and easy to drink. While it wasn’t very chewy, it wasn’t a guzzling beer by any means. This beer is as enjoyable, or perhaps more so, as it warms up to room temperature. At the Rathskeller, where it is on tap, you can get it in small, medium, or wholly-hell-I-better-be-careful-not-to-give-myself-a-hernia large. If you are going to be in the Kellerbar or restaurant for a long period of time, go for the large and work on it over a long period of time.

Chris: I, too, like Jim, must confess that I really enjoy the Optimator. But in creating this blog, part of my reasoning was to educate the masses on "good beer", and the Optimator definitely qualifies.

This review is difficult for me to write because so much of the ingredients of The Optimator blend together so well that it's difficult to differentiate. That's why this beer is so good.

The color is a very dark brown, almost black - my favorite kind of beer - and definitely opaque. Very typical of the doppelbock.

The nose is muted. Again, everything blends together so well, it's difficult to pick out individual smells. I can get a slight hint of chocolate, a slight metallic, and a definite malt.

The taste jumps on on the front your tongue and bites down on those tastebuds. From there, the aftertaste aroma just bursts out of your nose. It's very malty (as it should be), and appears to be well-carbonated.

This is a good room temperature beer. It doesn't need to be iced-down, and actually shouldn't be. The taste actually improves at room temperature. Which lends itself to sipping instead of chugging, which is good because of the 7.2% ABV.

In my opinion, the Optimator is arguably one of the few perfect beers.

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