Think of Schwarzbiers as the “cold brews of beer.”
Schwarzbiers, also known as black lagers, are one of the most overlooked styles in the beer world, and frankly, rightfully so! The concept of a “black lager” isn’t particularly inspiring. The term “lager” typically conjures up images of something pale and yellow: a pilsner or even just a Budweiser. Meanwhile, flavor-wise, black lagers are so dark, roasted and chocolatey that they typically resemble porters and stouts—two extremely popular styles that, uh, already exist. So where do schwarzbiers fit into this mess? And why bother? Because, believe it or not, black lagers can be amazing summer beers – better than porters and stouts – even though the reasons can be a bit subtle.
The primary difference between schwarzbiers and porters/stouts (besides the more technical explanation of the yeast) are esters – which in a basic sense are the fruity flavors created during fermentation as opposed to those that are imparted by other ingredients like hops. Esters tend to be more noticeable in lighter beers because big roasted and chocolatey beers like porters, stouts and black lagers are better at masking subtler ester notes. But where esters can still be especially prevalent are on a beer’s finish: ales tend to finish fruitier and lagers tend to finish drier.
So what’s the big deal about finish? One of the reasons lagers are considered refreshing summer beers is that they finish clean. This holds true for schwarzbiers, which can bring all sorts of dark roasted chocolate and coffee delights without any odd fruitiness around the edges. Though this difference between black lagers and stouts may seem slight, it makes schwarzbiers a perfect piece of counterprogramming for warm weather: The deep, rich flavors are reminiscent of the kind of beer you want to indulge in during cold winter months (transporting your mind to a cooler place), but the dry finish works well even in the heat. In some way, black lagers could be seen as the iced coffee or cold brew of beers (caffeine not included).
This summer, don’t fear the dark beer, but instead of a stout, maybe dig a little deeper and see if any schwarzbiers are around. Massachusetts lager specialist Jack’s Abby Brewing’s Cascadian Schwarzbier is an especially delicious example. Or if speaking German isn’t your thing, seek out a “Black Beer” like California’s Moonlight Brewing’s Death & Taxes.
You might be surprised by how refreshing it can be to go to the dark side.