Make a Schwarz, not a Porter

The key to making and drinking dark lagers is to remember that despite their color they should stay true to the lager hallmarks.

John Holl May 1, 2019 - 2 min read

Make a Schwarz, not a Porter Primary Image

Alexandra Nowell, the brewmaster at Three Weavers Brewing Company in Inglewood, California, loves schwarzbier, and the brewery makes one—Kill the Lights—annually in late autumn. “It kills me that it sells so slowly,” she says.

There’s a stigma that exists with some drinkers, she says, that because the beer is dark, it can’t be refreshing. And in Southern California, where refreshment is key, a schwarzbier is a tough sell.

“There’s a massive misconception that dark leads to heavy mouthfeel or a cloying finish; it’s not always the case, of course.”

As so many other breweries do, Three Weavers markets their recipe as a black lager. For Nowell, it all comes down to communication. She runs first-time drinkers through a tasting where she asks them to close their eyes before seeing and tasting a sample. When they get that lager crispness, they are often surprised by the color of the beer when they see it the first time. She asks her sales staff to do the same with beer buyers. “They never guess it’s dark in color,” she says.

For their recipe, the grain bill is “heavy on the Vienna, so you get the characteristic breadiness,” and complemented by a small amount of de-husked black malt, which adds “a ton of color.”

Nowell notes that some brewers go heavy on chocolate malt in their dark lagers so they get that roast character, but that has more flavor impact than color impact, and the subtlety of the style can get lost or even verge into porter or brown-ale territory.

“I wish it were a better-appreciated style,” she says. “It’s a beer that I love, that a lot of brewers love, but the population doesn’t quite understand it yet.”

John Holl is the author of Drink Beer, Think Beer: Getting to the Bottom of Every Pint, and has worked for both Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine® and All About Beer Magazine.