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.
Schwarzbier Description and Brewing Tips
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.
This tyle is the darkest and usually the most roasty beer in the dark lager category. It is a very elegant beer that may 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.
I have won quite a few awards with Jamil’s recipe. If it is your first attempt at brewing one, try to brew Jamil’s recipe and adjust based on critiques from the judges if you enter it into a competition. If you don’t enter it, then enjoy the beer by itself or with hearty and spicy foods including barbecue, sausages and roasted meat. These beers make a great winter beer, try it and see for yourself.
References: Information for this page was adapted from the 2008 and 2015 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.