Schwarzbier, literally “black beer,” is a black lager with a light to medium body and a moderate to high bitterness. The alcohol content typically is around 5% alcohol by volume (ABV)—which makes it a “vollbier” in terms of German tax law. But schwarzbier constitutes a style of its own, differing from dunkel both in color and in body. By definition—although this definition does not seem to bother many brewers—schwarzbier should be brewed from Munich and dark (roasted) malts. A toasty to slightly burned malt note in the aftertaste is acceptable if it is balanced with hop bitterness and a hint of hop aroma. Schwarzbier is darker than most dunkels but also drier and lighter bodied. Many are now made with dehusked roasted malts, allowing the beers to attain a very dark brown color and chocolaty flavor while avoiding the acidic bite usually associated with heavily roasted malts. Schwarzbier has been virtually unknown for decades in Western Germany but has made a large impact on the market after Germany’s reunification in 1990. The output of schwarzbier has been 1.1 million hl (937,384 US bbl) in Germany in 2009, with the eastern German Köstritzer Schwarzbier being the strongest selling brand at 390,000 hl (332,345 US bbl). See köstritzer schwarzbierbrauerei.

German beer statistics include the relatively small production of “German porter,” another beer style that is not clearly defined. Some German porters are similar to Baltic porters, whereas others are simply schwarzbier running under a different name. The German porter style was developed in the 19th century from a bottom-fermented and relatively strong dark lager (typically 13 to 16°Plato) that undergoes a secondary fermentation with a top-fermenting ale yeast and in some cases with Brettanomyces. See brettanomyces. During World War I, when it seemed “unpatriotic” to drink a British-style beer in Germany, German porter went out of fashion. Relatively pure forms of the style have survived in Karlsruhe’s Hoepfner brewery and in Meissner Schwerter brewery in Meissen, Saxonia.

The new popularity of schwarzbier since Germany’s reunification has led to a decline in the sales of top-fermented dark altbier, the once-popular style from Northrhine Westphalia that has seen large production losses in the decades after 1990. Whereas altbier tends to be bold and hoppy, most schwarzbier is fairly mild in flavor with bitterness rarely rising above 20 international bitterness units. This has made it a relatively popular beer style among American craft brewers, who enjoy its combination of bold appearance and easygoing character. Interestingly, schwarzbier seems to have become a specialty in Utah, where strict laws limit the sale of beers above 4% ABV. These restrictions appear to have made Utah’s brewers proficient in the production of mild but flavorful beer styles, and the popularity of schwarzbier is on the rise.