Just as beer on the paler side of the spectrum has vast family, so too does schwarzbier. This “black beer” has a rich history, a great taste and pairs well with several tasty dishes.
Ready to go over to the dark side? Here’s everything you need to know about schwarzbier.
What Is Schwarzbier (Black Beer)?
Schwarzbier, meaning “black beer” in German, is a dark lager that originated in Germany. It tends to be a deep chocolate brown in colour with hints of chocolate or coffee flavours. It is similar to stout in that it is made from roasted malt, which gives it its dark colour. Many schwarzbiers will have a ruby tint radiating from their depths. A creamy head, tan tinged to varying degrees will top the dark liquid.
Schwarzbier is a touch darker than dunkel and doppelbock ̶ it’s the darkest of all the German lagers. Despite its Gothic look, the schwarzbier is an easy-drinking beer ̶ it’s lower in alcohol at around 5% ABV and is lighter in body and drier than dunkel lager.
What Is The History Of Schwarzbier?
Not to be confused with its equally dark relations or Porter and Stout, Schwarzbier, literally “black beer” in German, may be the oldest continuously brewed beer style in the world.
Evidence of just how old this beer style is was uncovered in 1935 by archaeologists working in a Celtic tomb seven miles from Kulmbach, a village in northern Bavaria. Buried in the grave of a high-ranking Celt, where all the goods and weapons his people believed were needed in the afterlife.
One of these was a ceramic amphora with the remains of a kind of black beer and some bits of partially baked bread, the fermenting starter of the time. This tomb is nearly 3 000 years old (800 BC), making it the oldest evidence of brewing found in Europe.
We can deduce that, since this was a black beer and it was brewed in the vicinity of Kulmbach, which still brews black beer today, this quite possibly is an ancient ancestor to modern schwarzbier.
Kulmbach remains central to the story of schwarzbier because it was here that monks would first brew the famous Kulmbacher Kloster Mӧnchshof Schwarzbier, which translates to “black beer from the monks’ courtyard cloister.” It is still brewed today.
Talking of today, what’s the most popular schwarzbier in the world? Naturally, it’s called Dark and is brewed by The Alchemist in Stowe, Vermont in the US.
When people talk of dark or black beers, just about everybody pictures a glass of Guinness. So is Guinness a schwarzbier? Technically Guinness is a dark black lager, just as is schwarzbier.
So just what does schwarzbier taste like. This is where slight differences with Guinness come forward.
The Taste Of Schwarzbier
Think of the Schwarzbier as a stout given the lager treatment. In other words, it has those malty, chocolatey notes and a dark build but ends up being light in body like a lager, with a lower alcohol content.
The lower ABV is complemented by the roasted malty notes, like roasted coffee. It’s lightweight and never too intense.
Schwarzbier is drier than dunkel lager and also don’t expect it to taste like a stout. Instead, think of a light bready malty character backed up by a touch of roast and hop bitterness on the finish.
While all beer is made with roasted malt, like coffee, the darker the roast the richer the brew.
By upping the dark malt, a brewer can deepen the colour of the final beer while also adding more complex flavour notes, such as coffee, chocolate, and caramel.
Other ways to darken a beer’s colour is to either brew it for longer during the boil or it can be aged in charred wood barrels.
Each method, each alteration of the malt bill will make for a different type of dark beer, from the light and malty to the rich and creamy.
Taste-wise, schwarzbier will typically possess a moderately intense malt taste with a slight sweetness and flavours of chocolate and coffee.
The powerful aroma you’ll get from Schwarzbier is the malt sweetness from the Munich malt backbone. The noble hop aroma gives you hints of toast or bread crust. You can also sense other aromas like caramel, toffee and nuts. There are no fruity esters or diacetyl in the aroma of this beer.
Schwarzbier’s mouthfeel features a medium-full body with a strong feeling on the palate. There’s slight alcohol warming, but it does not overshadow the malty taste. You will also feel moderate carbonation.
Their finish is usually quite dry but smooth, with malt bitterness generally being kept to a minimum, allowing for some mild hop bitterness to come through instead.
Want to try some? Here’s a recipe for a home-brew or you can try the following which are some of the best schwarzebiers around at the moment:
- Samuel Adams Black Lager
- Kibitzer Schwarzbier
- Devils Backbone Black Lager
- Jack’s Abby Smoke & Dagger
Many schwarzebier fans reckon that these beers are just made for pairing with food. Let’s take a look at what works with pairings?
Pairing Schwarzbier With Food
Schwarzbiers pair perfectly with dishes that have added layers of smoky or fruity complexity.
Smoked cheeses are an excellent choice, as are those cheeses that contain berries or fruits, as the flavours present in the beer add to the flavours present in these types of cheeses. Think German Bruder Basil or a good simple smoked Gouda.
Additionally smoked or grilled meat dishes are paired wonderfully with these beers as the rich flavours contained in schwarzbiers are complemented nicely by the smokiness of the meats. They are especially good with smoked or roasted meats that feature red wine reductions or fruitier sauces.
In addition, on the sweet side, try Tarts and fruits which will counter its chocolatey and roasted undertones with their bright and tart flavours. This makes a fabulous symphony of flavours that complement each other perfectly.
Serve your schwarzbier in a normal beer flute and keep it at room temperature. And go on, do try these under-rated schwarzbiers.
5 Under-The-Radar Schwarzbiers You Must Try Right Now
- Mönchshof Schwarzbier
- Neder Schwarze Anna
- Black Bavarian, Sprecher Brewing Company
- Cloudwater Schwarzbier
- BREWtality Expresso Black Bier, Midnight Sun Brewing Company
They say schwarzbiers are good beers to drink after a workout at the gym. Yes, not every post-workout beer has to be pale and wan. Try a refreshing black lager.
So while most will be familiar with porters and stouts, cornerstones of beer culture, the older black beer ̶ schwarzbier ̶ is also worth getting to know by any beer lover.
Don’t be fooled by black beers’ dark colour into thinking you’re going to taste something musty and dirty. It’s worth getting to know this clean and uncomplicated beer. If you are a lager or pilsner fan, schwarzbier will be just right for you.
It’s easy drinking, and its roasty and malty flavours pair well with food and cheeses making it a great option to enjoy with friends at a barbecue, or to savour a sunset in solitude. We’ll drink to that!
Jake has been a craft beer and homebrew enthusiast since his college days. He loves scouring Europe for unique and unusual hops to add to his beers.
Founder of Jake’s Brew Haven – he currently hosts beer-tasting sessions at select local pubs in Baltimore.