Schwarzbier, also known as “black beer”, is a German lager that has a dark color and a rich, roasted malt flavor. Tasting notes for a Schwarzbier may include:
- Dark color with a reddish or brown hue
- A slight roast malt aroma with hints of coffee and chocolate
- Smooth and creamy mouthfeel
- Mild hop bitterness with a slight sweetness from the malt
- Low to moderate carbonation
- A dry finish with a subtle smoky or burnt undertone.
Overall, Schwarzbier is a well-balanced and complex beer that offers a unique taste experience. Many would call it a beer of contradictions, it looks like a heavy stout or Porter but is actually quite a light-tasting lager.
The first time I tried a Schwarzbier I was pleasantly surprised, which inspired me to brew my own for my next batch of beer, and it’s one I just keep on brewing, all year round.
Schwarzbiers are dark beers that are not overly aggressive, not too roasty, syrupy, alcoholic, or creamy, it’s more like a light roasted carbonated coffee with a low alcohol level.
If brewing your Schwarzbier for a competition, it’s best to stick to the official BJCP Guidelines for the traditional style, but if it’s just something for you and a few pals at home you can change it up however you want.
If you like a hoppy beer, add a few more hops, Although, I would stay away from the bigger American hops which may clash too much with the malts – noble hops work best here.
If you prefer a nuttier malt taste, up the Munich malt. Likewise, for that crisper lager or Pilsner taste, simply up the Pilsner malt.
Just remember a Schwarzbier is a black lager and not an ale or a stout.
Use a good German lager yeast, follow the lagering process of a European style lager, and don’t go over the top with specialty malts like Chocolate malt, and you should end up with an ultra-refreshing, low to moderate alcohol Black lager.
Brewing Tips for a Schwarzbier
Brewing a Schwarzbier can be a tricky proposition for many homebrewers.
Black beer styles can be notoriously difficult when trying to get that slight hint of roast character right. You don’t want the roastiness to overpower the malt backbone of the beer so it becomes more of a stout-like beer rather than a dark lager.
A Schwarzbier should be a lighter in body lager German beer but with a darker brown color to black color.
Personally, I think a classic German-style Schwarzbier (black lager) should be jet black but a deep brown with hints of ruby and Garnett is also acceptable to most fans of this style.
Below I have included a few tips for brewing your own Schwarzbier at home. Once you have a deeper understanding of what makes this unique beer so tasty, you may want to try devising your own black beer recipes.
To get you started I have also included two of my favorite Schwarzbier recipes, an all-grain version and an extract version for partial extract brewers.
The Grain Bill
When it comes to developing a recipe for a Schwarzbier, the base malts you will be looking at are primarily Munich and Pilsner malts with a smaller amount of specialty malts thrown in too.
The big question is what proportions you use of each base malt.
Traditionalists will favor Munich malt as the leading malt in the recipe, often making up as much as 100% of the grain bill.
Munich malts lend a very recognizable nutty and toasty character to a Schwarzbier while also allowing for a bittersweetness in the background.
A common ratio in Schwarzbiers would be 90% Munich with the other 10% of the grist made up of Pilsner and specialty malts. Pilsner malt offers the dry crispness and clean, lager-like profile you expect from this Germanic beer.
If you really want to showcase the crispness of the beer you can always up the Pilsner malt or even make it the primary malt and downgrade the Munich to just 20 – 30%.
However, specialty malts should be kept to 10% or under.
If you find the malt base produces a beer that is too rich, I always suggest going down the route of cutting the Munich down and replacing it with either Maris Otter or Pilsner (I prefer about 30-40% Pilsner malt) until the beer levels off.
Don’t try to balance the beer by upping the roast content – it’s so easy to go overboard.
In worst-case scenarios, if the beer is still too bready and rich for your liking, leave the specialty grains untouched but replace the base malt entirely with Vienna malt. Your wort, post-boil, should have an OG of about 1.045.
Specialty malts are typically used for the color of a Schwarzbier but can also add subtle notes of chocolate, caramel, and roastiness. You don’t want to go overboard with those flavors, though, and restraint should be exercised.
A light caramel character and chocolate notes can be gained from a light chocolate malt or caramel malt, but only use a small proportion of each. CaraMalt would be a good choice here.
Since it is a black beer, the color must arrive from these specialty malts. However not all specialty dark malts are made the same.
The problem with many of the darker malts is they add too much of a roasted flavor to the beer, which can overpower that crisp profile you are looking for in this European beer.
Using a de-husked malt like Carafa I, II or even Carafa III will give you those darker colors without too much of any roast character.
There’s also a dehusked black malt available which can give the beer a jet-black color but with none of the roastiness that normally comes from using a traditional Black patent malt.
Like many Pilsner lagers and other German beers, there should be a hop bitterness present, but it shouldn’t dominate the Schwarzbier. Dark beers like a Black IPA are better suited if you’re a big hophead.
As with most other germanic beers, German noble hops such as Saaz, Tettang, and Hallertau will work well with this beer. The hops should offer more subtle noble hop aromas along with a mild flavor and moderated bitterness.
If you want to mix things up a little you could always try using an American hop with German pedigree such as Liberty hops.
Hops added at the beginning of the boil will give that low to moderate bitterness, while a late addition towards the end of the boil can add an improved aroma to the beer while not taking away too much from the malty taste this beer should have.
Typically a clean fermenting German lager yeast should be chosen when brewing a Schwarzbier. Whichever German yeast you use, remember you will need the beer to go through a six to eight-week lagering process for that clean, lager-like profile.
Below is a list of yeasts to choose from:
- Wyeast Bavarian Lager yeast (2206) or Pilsen Lager (2007)
- White Labs German Lager yeast (WLP830)
- Dry yeast: Fermentis Saflager W-34/70 dry yeast or Saflager S-23
The yeast will thank you if you start the fermentation process at around 50ºF(10ºC) or even a little lower for the first 5 or 6 days or so, but after that, you can allow the temperature to rise a little until the primary fermentation is complete.
Starting at temperatures above 50ºF (10ºC) can produce esters from the yeast which will stand out like a sore thumb against the mildly roasted background.
Leaving the fermentation too low for too long a period may not effectively avoid some of the sulfur compounds – while sulfur isn’t too much of a big deal in most German lagers, a Schwarzbier doesn’t really call for it.
If you are brewing with slightly hard water, adding a 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda to your mash can help round out some of the roasted grains flavors and make it easier to appreciate the more subtle flavors you will get from the specialty malts such as Carafa or other crystal mats.
Note: This is a basic recipe, feel free to adjust the ingredients and ratios to suit your taste. Fermentation and lager time and carbonation levels can also be adjusted to your taste.
Schwarzbier Recipe All Grain
- 8 lb German Pilsner malt
- 1 lb German Carafa malt
- 0.5 lb German Munich malt
- 0.5 lb German Chocolate malt
- 1 oz German Northern Brewer hops (60 min)
- 0.5 oz German Hallertauer hops (5 min)
- 1 pack of German lager yeast (e.g. Wyeast 2124)
- Mash the grains at 152°F for 60 minutes.
- Boil the wort for 60 minutes, adding hops according to the schedule above.
- Cool the wort to around 50°F and pitch the lager yeast.
- Allow the beer to ferment at 50°F for 7-10 days.
- Transfer the beer to a secondary fermenter or keg and allow it to lager for 4-6 weeks at 32-38°F.
- Once the beer has lagered, bottle or keg the beer and carbonate it to your desired level.
- Enjoy your Schwarzbier!
Schwarzbier Partial Extract Recipe
|5 gallons (19L)
For those of you who prefer the extract brew process, here is a recipe that uses a partial extract with small amounts of grain too.
- 6.5 lbs (2.9kg) Amber liquid malt extract
- 1.5 lbs (0.7kg) crushed Dark Crystal malt
- 6 oz (160g) Black patent malt
- 2 oz (57g) Spalt hops (4% Alpha Acid Units AAU) @ 90 minutes
- 1 Whirloc tablet (optional)
- Bavarian Lager yeast Wyeast 2206 or White Labs WLP830. Mangrove Jacks also do a Bavarian Lager Yeast M76 which would be suitable.
- Steep the grains in a muslin bag in three gallons of water at 170ºF (77ºC) for 30 minutes.
- Remove from the heat, take out the muslin bag and rinse with one gallon of water at 170ºF (77C), ensuring the bag doesn’t split before stirring in half of the extract being used until fully dissolved.
- Bring back to the boil and add the hops and boil for 90 minutes.
- When 90 minutes is up, turn off the heat and add the rest of the extract.
- Allow the wort to stand for 10 minutes to allow for pasteurization.
- Quickly chill the wort to below 80ºF (27ºC) and rack off to the fermentation vessel.
- Once the wort has chilled down to below 60ºF (15ºC), pitch the yeast, preferably as a starter according to the packet instructions.
- After a couple of days of active fermentation, reduce the temperature of your brew chamber to 50ºF (10ºC) and allow it to ferment for three to four weeks.
- After the primary fermentation, you will need to lager the beer at approximately 40ºF (5ºC) for six weeks. A temperature-controlled brew chamber or other temperature control system is essential if you want those crisp lager notes to this black beer.
- For the last few days of the lagering process, you will want to raise the temperature to 65ºF (18ºC) to avoid too many esters.
- Rack off into a bottling bucket or keg and prime or carbonate to about 2.3 – 2.7 volumes as per your standard method. You can find a calculator for force carbonation or priming sugars elsewhere on this site.
- One bottled or kegged, keep chilled, and enjoy.