When I was a kid growing up in a small town in the Midwest, there wasn’t much to do, so we watched a lot of movies. My friend John (who is, appropriately enough, now a director in Hollywood) had boxes and boxes and boxes of VCR tapes in his attic with everything from old “Saturday Night Live” episodes to Monty Python classics to movies taped right off the television, complete with weather warnings in the lower corner. It was a mecca!
One of my favorite discoveries in that collection was the genius of Mel Brooks. We didn’t have Mel Brooks movies at my house in our tape collection. It was full of musicals, Disney classics, and Star Wars, but no “Blazing Saddles,” “Young Frankenstein,” or “Spaceballs.” The first time I watched “Spaceballs,” I laughed so hard, orange juice squirted out my nose.
I grew up in the era of Star Wars and Star Trek, so I was fully voiced in all the jokes that “Spaceballs” made about those epic franchises, whether it was “Yogurt” as a golden-hued, hilarious parody of Yoda, John Candy’s brilliant Chewbacca stand-in, “Barf,” or President Skroob’s failed use of the teleporter. These were all great gags, but what really made the movie a success for me is that it was a good adventure movie even without all the mocking of my childhood’s biggest sci-fi franchises.
Bill Pullman’s “Lone Starr” was actually a decent hero. The fact that he was making fun of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and even a little Indiana Jones was just a great bonus. And you just had to love that he drove a run-down, flying RV, Brooks’s nod to the Millennium Falcon.
As a kid then (and an adult now), my house was full of Star Wars toys, figures, and T-shirts, so the running gag in the movie that Yogurt wants to create “Spaceballs” merchandise of every kind was a runaway hit with ten-year-old me. Even the nods to “Planet of the Apes,” “Wizard of Oz,” and “Alien” elicited a hearty laugh, and still do.
To be clear, “Spaceballs” isn’t the best of Brooks — that might be “Young Frankenstein” or perhaps “Blazing Saddles” — but it was an instant classic when I first saw it, and something I still watch today whenever I need a good laugh or catch it on a random cable channel.
Of course the biggest joke in “Spaceballs” is “The Schwartz,” Brooks’s parody of George Lucas’s The Force. Instead of using lightsabers in “Spaceballs,” they use rings that Dark Helmet and Lone Starr hold hilariously close to their crotches before they battle. These rings can also fire bolts of Schwartz and move objects. There was even a liquid Schwartz that helped power Lone Starr’s RV spaceship as he raced into the final act of the film.
The only liquid form of Schwartz we have in real life is one of my favorite beers, and although they won’t power your RV or send you into space, they are wonderful brews. The Schwarzbier, a German style also commonly called “black lager,” is a fantastic, but lesser-known beer style. These beers have a roasted malt taste that I love. They aren’t bitter like most IPAs, and instead tend to have a mild sweetness to them.
Before you start conjuring a glass of Guinness in your head, these aren’t the dark “chewy” beers you find in Stouts. Schwarzbiers are easy-drinking, and don’t tend to be high on the ABV chart, so you can have one at dinner with the family and still drive the SUV home.
My favorite Schwarzbier is undoubtedly Black Thunder from my friends at Austin Beerworks. When the boys at ABW founded their brewery about 10 years ago now, this was one of their original beers, and it’s still my favorite.
Now, as the beer trends have pushed breweries towards more big and bold IPAs and fruity wheat beers, Black Thunder wasn’t as popular with the broader populace as it was with my taste buds, so these days I can only get it every fall when they release it as a seasonal. But without fail, every fall I stock up on several six-packs of this one and stash it away in my fridge to enjoy for a little while.
This beer is an extra dark mahogany color, like the intimidating hue of an expensive, expansive office desk. It has nice white foam, and good carbonation. Black Thunder, which I believe won the ABW team a Gold Medal at the Great American Beer Festival, is simply an enjoyable beer to drink, and with the redesigned can art is even a cool can to look at while you imbibe. This is a beer with a hint of chocolate, coffee, and just a touch of hops in each sip, a pleasing mix on your tongue that keeps you going back for more.
I love to serve this beer with hearty foods like meatloaf, steak, or glazed beef short ribs. It is also one of my favorite beers to use for beer can chicken, but since it’s not always available, I tend to drink all of it and don’t allow myself any for cooking.
If you live outside of Central Texas, you’re gonna have a hard time getting your hands on this Schwarzbier, but the good news is there are more widely available options you can find at your local grocer’s. New Belgium Brewing out of Colorado makes its “1554 Black Lager,” Brooklyn Brewery makes a “Winter Lager” that falls into this category, and even Samuel Adams has a Schwarz.
So whether you’re in Parker, Colorado, Indianapolis, Indiana, or Naples, Florida, there is a brewery somewhere near you making a good Schwarzbier and you should try it this weekend. May the Schwarzbier be with you!