2008 BJCP Style Guidelines
4C - Schwarzbier

NOTE: In the 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines, Schwarzbier is reclassified as Style 8B in Category 8 Dark European Lager which contains German vollbier lagers darker than amber-brown color.

The information for this style is accurate but if you are studying for the current BJCP exam use this page as reference in conjunction with the current description.

Schwarzbier - Dark Lager

Schwarzbier is one of my favorite styles to drink.  Its name means "black beer" in German. This beer has wonderfully mild, almost bittersweet notes of chocolate, coffee, and vanilla. It is a German lager with a malty middle, an aromatic sweetness and roasty notes balanced with nice noble hop bitterness and flavor. This style is sometimes called a "Schwarzpils" because it is very clean and elegant. But unlike a blond pils, the bitterness and hop flavors are subdued and soft. These beers are basically darker versions of the Dunkel. The style originated in southern and southeastern Germany.

The name, "black beer" may scare many homebrewers away. Once I tried a few commercial examples and a good homebrewed one, I had to brew this beer for myself. Jamil's recipe in the book Brewing Classic Styles is a fine example and to date, my favorite beer. It just amazes me that a beer so dark can be so elegant yet be packed with so much flavor. If you haven't brewed this beer yet, I highly recommend you do.

Schwarzbier Description

  • Aroma: The aroma of has notes of sweet malt mingled with hints of roasty character. These malt aromas can be clean and subdued or more like a rich Munich malt character. It may even have some notes of caramel. The roasty aromas can be coffee-like but should not be like a stout which may leave a burnt impression. Noble hop aromas are not required in this style but are apparent and subtle in versions brewed in America. The lager characteristics are typical with no fruity esters and no diacetyl. Some sulfur is possible in a Schwarzbier.
  • Appearance: These are not truly black beers. They are a medium to very dark brown with ruby highlights. Usually very clear with a firm, creamy, long-lasting tan-colored head.
  • Flavor: This beer has a moderate malt character, somewhere between the other two styles in this category. The roast character is apparent in this beer but will never be as burnt or acrid as a stout or some porters. It has a sweet maltiness with a bitter-chocolate middle that lingers into the finish. The bitterness is medium to low and hop flavor is light to moderate. You should not taste any fruitiness or diacetyl. This dark lager has a nice long finish featuring the noble hop bitterness, bready malt, and roast character. Some versions have some residual sweetness especially when brewed in the US.
  • Mouthfeel: The mouthfeel is medium-light to medium with moderate carbonation. It is silky and never has any astringency or harshness.
  • Overall Impression: Schwarzbiers are dark German lagers with a good balance of bready malts, hop bitterness, and roast flavors.Comments: This is the darkest and usually the most roasty beer in the dark lager category. It is a very elegant beer which will surprise many people who think all dark beers must taste like stouts. To brew this beer, find a recipe which strikes a balance between the malt, roast and bitterness. Use debittered roasted malts to achieve the dark color without adding too much burnt acrid character. The hop bitterness should be a bit bigger than in the other styles in this category, but should still be in balance with the malt. Use only noble hops for this beer. Make sure to allow this beer to ferment completely so the sweetness is not cloying and watch the fermentation temperatures so the yeast do not produce any fruity notes. If you start the fermentation high and then lower it to the typical lager temperatures, be sure you give an adequate amount of time at an elevated temperature at the end to allow the yeast to clean up all notes of diacetyl.
  • History: Schwarzbiers evolved from the Dunkels and acquired the tastes of the brewers in the southern and southeastern regions of Germany.
  • Ingredients: You should use German Munich malt and continental pilsner malt for the base grain with small amounts of roasted malts for the dark color and subtle roasty flavors. Some crystal can be added for complexity and mild residual sweetness. To get the dark colors, add a very small amount of debittered black malt such as Carafa Special from Weyermann which will not impart any acrid harshness but give plenty of color. Noble German hops are really required in this beer to be in style as well as a clean German lager yeast.
  • Vital Statistics: OG 1.046 - 1.052 FG: 1.010 - 1.016 IBUs: 22-32 SRM: 17 - 30 ABV: 4.4 - 5.4%.
  • Commercial Examples: Köstritzer Schwarzbier, Kulmbacher Mönchshof Premium Schwarzbier, Samuel Adams Black Lager, Krušovice Cerne, Original Badebier, Einbecker Schwarzbier, Gordon Biersch Schwarzbier, Weeping Radish Black Radish Dark Lager, Sprecher Black Bavarian References: Information for this page was adapted from the 2008 BJCP Style Guidelines, the page on Schwarzbier from The German Beer Institute, The German Beer Portal for North America, and Brewing Classic Styles, 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew, by Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer.

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