In his newest feature, DC Beer Senior Staff Writer and award-winning journalist Michael Stein compares and contrasts two–or more–beers of the same style. Or, two beers from the same brewery will be upheld to Stein’s analysis. And lastly, for the sake of the sheer joy beer can bring, two beers will be opened and sampled at the same time.
A Tale of Two Tmavé
In Ivy City where we set our scene,
Two Czech lagers, neither green,
Both cans are dark, neither lager light,
Tmave, Tmavy, Cerne, or Czech Dark Lager
Can all be right?
In our inaugural Stein Compares and Contrasts, we begin by comparing and contrasting Other Half Tmavé and Atlas Brew Works Night Vision Czech Dark Lager. But before that, let’s take a moment to reflect, and applaud, how amazing it is that two breweries, a few hundred yards from one another, can have two Czech-style dark lagers in cans at the same time.
Both these lagers come in black cans. When poured, Other Half Tmavé is lighter in color while Atlas Czech Dark Lager is a wee bit darker tinged. When held to the light, Other Half Tmavé is a not-quite-brown copper color with deep amber highlights. Atlas is raised to a bright light, a wonderfully deep garnet, with dark maroon highlights reminiscent of rich red clay soil.
In the nose, Other Half’s dark lager has Czech Saaz hops and mild sweetness. A not-quite-prune smell presents itself alongside an earthy sweetness somewhere between pumpernickel and a plum tart from a Bohemian bakery in my memory.
Atlas’ dark lager has a tiny bit of roast character in the aroma and there is a breadiness that can be found in graham crackers, or even the zippy snap found when a snack cracker smells right before you crunch it. The deep bread crust aroma is the kind of loaf that is a bit hearty, though not too heavy; it doesn’t need anything but perhaps some salt and butter (which will aid in me finishing off this loaf the day after purchase). Think of a Palladin loaf from Bread Furst on day two which still holds its own before turning it into French toast. There is perhaps a sweeter, biscuit or pale cookie character in the Other Half Tmavé that’s less aromatic from a malt perspective than Atlas’ version.
The taste of the Other Half Tmavé is immediately recognizable as that herbal, matchstick-like character of Saaz hops. The cedar and woody character is cut with a minty zippiness that lets you know these are some of the best hops in the world; the reason 80% of all Czech hops grown are the Saaz variety. There is a tea-like herbal quality that is not as bitter or lingering as black or green teas, but an endearing earthen soil character that coats the tongue in the finish. That brief bit of bread, crackers, and biscuity sweetness is prevalent in the Other Half Tmavé before a hefty dollop of herbal, woodsy, Saaz-goodness brings in a brisk finish that begs you to take another sip. Overall it’s very moreish as I pour more out of the can into the glass. This may well be the freshest, most expressive batch of Saaz I’ve tasted in a dark lager domestically.
A wonderful foam fills my glass as the lacing on the glass clings from the first fill. According to Other Half, the 5.6% ABV “Czech-style dark lager, similar to a German Dunkel, brewed with Czech Saaz hops and Czech lager yeast.” I find this to be quite different from my favorite German Dunkels and couldn’t be happier about it. There is some dunkel that tickles that unending desire for a lupulin threshold shift, but they are few and far between.
The head on Other Half Tmavé is a bit lighter than the head that also clings to my glass full of Altas’ Czech Dark Lager. This follows through into the colors of the beers too. Other Half’s Tmavé is paler and looks more in color like Port City Brewing Company’s Tmavé. Atlas’ Czech Dark Lager looks more like Wheatland Springs’ Spire City Czech-Style Tmavé Pivo.
Atlas’ Night Vision has a rich malt character and a fresh bread quality to the aroma that carries through to the mid palate with a lovely fullness. If Other Half’s Tmavé is surprisingly nimble at 5.6% ABV, Atlas’ Czech Dark Lager is a prince amongst paupers feeling surprisingly full on the palate at 5.4% ABV. It is spritzy, but it is not without bitterness. It is easy to drink despite the dark color, but it has a good balance of malt depth and hop brightness. It is a mystery wrapped in an enigma; it is the kindness of strangers with the charm and familiarity found in an old friend forged in messy fingers around grandma’s kitchen table.
Atlas’ Czech Dark Lager has a roastier character than the Other Half Tmavé, but that flavor is there and was imparted to the beer on purpose. I certainly wouldn’t say it’s entirely roasty, as it stays true to the spirit of Czech lager: ridiculously easy to drink a lot of. It is by no means smokey, and the roast that is present is very subtle. The deft hands of the brewers, cellar squad, and production teams are showing up and showing out with these two beers. There were other iterations of this beer in years before, but this is a new beer from Atlas and I would argue the tastiest version of their take on tmavé yet.
If you love dark beers, lager, or dark lager, you’d be foolish not to try these two. In fact, if you see me anytime or any place selling a “Czech Dark Lager,” a Tmavé, tmavý, Černé, černý, or some derivation thereof, you should bet good money I am going to try it. If it’s good, I’ll buy it. I’d buy* both Other Half and Atlas’ dark lagers, and I’ll do so again should they come out in the future. I’d encourage you to invest similarly.
Other Half brewery is at 1401 Okie St NE, Washington, DC 20002, and a four pack of #1 9th Anniversary Collaborative Tmavé Pivo with KCBC and Fifth Hammer costs $16. Atlas Brew Works is at 2052 West Virginia Ave NE #102, Washington, DC 20002, and a six pack of Atlas Brew Works Night Vision Czech Dark Lager costs $13.
On Wednesday, Lost Generation plans to package their Czech Dark Lager, Dying Moons & Shadows. It’s 5% ABV and brewed with Mandarina Bavaria and Hersbrucker hops. Expect layered malt notes including toast, cashew, and raisin with soft undertones of chocolate, and just a hint of roast. It should have a full malt body in comparison to their usual lagers, which they typically aim for lighter. Expect the nuance of the malt and body to be able to stand out on Lost Generation’s Dying Moons & Shadows.
*I did not pay for my Atlas Brew Works Night Vision Czech Dark Lager, as it was a gift