In one of the stranger (if understandable) transitions from the 2008 to the 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines, an American style (the Dark American Lager) became a foreign style (the International Dark Lager). The switch isn’t completely out of the blue – after all, the commercial examples noted by the BJCP included a significant number of foreign brews and breweries. The style itself also didn’t change much, falling squarely into the “not a whole lot going on” box. Like many such styles in the guidelines, though, it has its place in your brewery repertoire when brewed well. For me, this beer style works just fine on its own for a fall or winter party tap addition, and it also makes a great base for winter-themed spice and fruit beers. My version of this beer is called “Simply Dark,” but simple can be challenging. Ever try to just hit a straight golf shot? That’s what I thought.
The International Dark Lager (though it will always be the Dark American to me) almost sounds like it’s trying to be inconspicuous. Little to no malt flavor. Light to no hops aroma. A little sweetness. Low to no caramel or roasted malt flavors. When people read descriptions like that, they picture a bland, flavorless beer that might as well just be water being drunk out of a darkly-tinted shaker pint. That’s true – but only if we assume that we take the “no” option on all of these flavors rather than the “low” option! What if we, though, go with the “little, light, low” option on them? In that case we end up with a light and drinkable dark lager that has touches of lots of different flavors. This beer can function as a cleaner and brighter (in flavor, not color) version of the English Mild, which sounds like a winner to me.
And, as previously noted, it can be a great base for specialty beers that require a little more of a solid backbone but still benefit from a beer that can get out of its own way.
As recipes go, this one’s a breeze. After all, we’re not looking for complexity in the flavor, and subtle flavors are just what characterful base malts add. You can use basic two-row pale malt here if you want, but there’s a difference between “clean” and “sterile,” and I’ve never made a beer with Pils and Vienna that was “too intense.” So, that’s what we begin with here: five pounds each of Pilsner malt and Vienna malt. To that we tack on half a pound of Carafa Special II, which will mostly act as a darkening agent but will add some very subtle cocoa flavors and aromatics (make sure it’s the Special, though – husks are a no-go area here). That should put you at about 1.053, post-boil.
Hopping is straightforward: a 30-minute addition of Hallertau, to the tune of 15 IBUs. The small amount of flavor that remains from that addition will impart a slight floral note, if you notice it at all (and if you don’t, no harm done!).
Finally, yeast: Wyeast 2308 (Munich Lager) is a great choice here. Relatively clean-fermenting (even at higher temperatures, which will be important) with modest attenuation, and it doesn’t leave much flavor behind.
To the extent that water matters here, you can think about targeting a high temporary hardness water profile, in the style of Munich of London.
Mash as usual at about 152F, and even with only a 30-minute hops addition I still go with a full 60-minute boil here. Some might be thinking that’s to drive off DMS from Pilsner malt, but there are two flaws in that thinking. First, DMS volatilizes in well under 60 minutes; and second, I don’t much care if there’s a little DMS left behind (the style allows it, and it kind of works in the flavor profile!).
Although it’s a lager, I ferment this beer the same way I do my Altbier and Kolsch, which actually makes it a bit of a “warm” lager or hybrid. 60F for about a week, and then let it free rise. Not only will this turn the beer around a little quicker (which I often need as the annual Christmas Party at the house sneaks up on me), but it should give you a very light fruity note in the background. After about 14 days total, cold crash and package, carbonating to a little over two volumes. Done and done.
I first brewed this style when working my way through Brewing Classic Styles. I stuck to the script there, and made a decent beer, but I didn’t much like it. This version served me a lot better, and I returned to it shortly after brewing my first Raspberry Porter. The “porter” version was fine, but the raspberries blew away so much of the flavor profile that there wasn’t much porter left (and I got some notes on sharp, tight flavors). Looking for something with a bit of dark and a more-basic flavor profile, I return to this Simply Dark lager, and it was a perfect fit. Since then I’ve used it as a good dark base for a number of experimental beers. Play around with it!