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4 - Dark Lager
4 - Dark Lager

Dark Lager beer styles

Prefer your Dark Lagers from Munich/Bavaria, Central & Eastern Germany, or an American version? Then let’s take a look at these styles…

Previously we examined European Amber Lager beer styles, in this article we will cover BJCP Category 4, Dark Lager, which includes the following Beer Styles:

First we will cover the history of the category, then take a look at the specifications of each style highlighting the similarities and differences. We then sample commercial examples of each style.


4 - Dark Lager
4 – Dark Lager

Lagers in general tended to be dark until improvements in kilning and malting techniques around the mid-19th century enabled the production of paler malts and hence pale lagers.

Although Dark American Lagers and Munich Dunkels tend to have more color than European Amber Lagers, they are not as deep in color as Bocks. Schwarzbiers, or Black Lagers, as their name suggests should be almost black in color.

Munich Dunkels, as you might expect, came from Munich and Bavaria whilst Schwarzbiers were probably derived from Munich Dunkels but were more commonly brewed in central and eastern Germany.


According to Jamil Zainasheff in his book, Brewing Classic Styles, although these beers are all dark they are not black as in a Stout or perhaps Porter. They do use dark types of malted barley but not ones that depart a roasted character into the beer.

Rather than having roasted, coffee, and chocolate flavors that can often be found in Porters and Stouts, Dark Lagers should have either almost no, or a restrained, roasted-grain character.

The following table* shows how the 3 styles of Dark Lagers vary:

Characteristic Dark American Lager Munich Dunkel Schwarzbier
(Black Beer)
Original Gravity: 1.044 – 1.056 1.048 – 1.056 1.046 – 1.052
Final Gravity: 1.008 – 1.012 1.010 – 1.016 1.010 – 1.016
ABV (alcohol %): 4.2 – 6.0 4.5 – 5.6 4.4 – 5.4
IBU’s (bitterness): 8 – 20 18 – 28 22 – 32
SRM (color): 14 – 22 14 – 28 17 – 30

The above table shows that all three Dark Lagers have pretty much the same Original Gravity with the Dark American Lager attenuating (fermenting out) the most and resulting in potentially the highest alcohol percentage. Bitterness and color wise the range gradually increases from Dark American Lager, through Munich Dunkel to both the most bitter and darkest Schwarzbier.

In the following sections we will look in more detail at each of the above Beer Styles.

Dark American Lager

Shiner Bock
Shiner Bock

Commercial examples of this style include Dixie Blackened Voodoo, San Miguel Dark, Baltika #4, Saint Pauli Girl Dark, Warsteiner Dunkel, Heineken Dark Lager, and Crystal Diplomat Dark Beer. We decided to try Shiner Bock and Beck’s Dark.

Shiner Bock has the following characteristics which are both within style though the name is taken from the animal rather than the beer style:

  • ABV = 4.4%
  • IBU’s  = 13

This beer tasted clean and a bit light on flavor with a thin mouth-feel.

Beck’s Dark has the following characteristics which are both within style:

  • ABV = 4.8%
  • IBU’s = 16
Beck's Dark
Beck’s Dark

Once again Beck’s Dark had that familiar “Beck’s” aroma that we have mentioned in previous articles BUT to our surprise the flavor was nothing like the smell. There was a malty bitterness and hints of chocolate. The appearance was somewhat darker than the Shiner Bock version of the style. In theory according to the style guidelines this style of beer should not be bitter or have chocolate notes but without them we felt the beer would not have been as good.

Typical ingredients used when brewing this style include:

  • Two- or six-row malted barley.
  • Corn/maize or rice as adjuncts.
  • Light use of caramel and darker malts.

Munich Dunkel

Commercial examples of this style include Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel, Hacker-Pschorr Alt Munich Dark, Paulaner Alt Münchner Dunkel, Weltenburger Kloster Barock-Dunkel, Ettaler Kloster Dunkel, Hofbräu Dunkel, Penn Dark Lager, König Ludwig Dunkel, Capital Munich Dark, Harpoon Munich-type Dark Beer, Gordon Biersch Dunkels, Dinkel Acker Dark. In Bavaria, Ettaler Dunkel, Löwenbräu Dunkel, Hartmann Dunkel, Kneitinger Dunkel, and Augustiner Dunkel. We decided to sample Spaten Munich Dunkel.

Spaten Munchen Dunkel
Spaten Munchen Dunkel

Spaten Munich Dunkel has the following characteristic which are both within style:

  • ABV = 5.1%
  • IBU’s = 21.5

The style guidelines describe this as more of a malty beer whereas we found this example to be more caramel and easy, flavorful drinking. Perhaps we were picking up on the melanoidins (see here for a good explanation of Melanoidins and how they differ from caramelization).

Typical ingredients used when brewing this style include:

  • German Munich malt (up to 100% in some cases) with the remainder German Pilsner malt.
  • Crystal and Roasted malts are sometimes added in small amounts for color.
  • Noble German hop varieties.
  • German lager yeast strains should be used.

Often this style is decoction mashed (up to a triple decoction) to enhance the malt flavors and create the depth of color. See our previous article on European Amber Lagers for an explanation of Decoction Mashes.

Schwarzbier (Black Beer)

Guinness Black Lager
Guinness Black Lager

Commercial examples of this style include Köstritzer Schwarzbier, Kulmbacher Mönchshof Premium Schwarzbier, Samuel Adams Black Lager, Krušovice Cerne, Original Badebier, Einbecker Schwarzbier, Gordon Biersch Schwarzbier, Weeping Radish Black Radish Dark Lager, and Sprecher Black Bavarian. We decided to sample Guinness Black Lager and Shiner Bohemian Black Lager.

Guinness Black Lager has the following characteristics which are all within style, alcohol percentage and bitterness being towards the lowers end and the color being towards the higher end of the style ranges:

  • ABV = 4.5%
  • IBU’s = 22
  • SRM = 28

This is a relatively recent release from Guinness (2010) and has plenty of dark and roasted flavors together with a good amount of mouth-feel from the maltiness.

Shiner Bohemian Black Lager has the following characteristics with which the alcohol strength is to style but the bitterness is below the style range:

  • ABV = 4.9%
  • IBU’s = 18 (min IBU’s are 22)
Shiner Bohemian Black Lager
Shiner Bohemian Black Lager

Compared to the Guinness Black Lager, Shiner’s version is more chocolate in flavor – equally as good but subtly different.

Typical ingredients used when brewing this style include:

  • German Munich and Pilsner malted barley.
  • Small amount of Roasted malts for the dark color and subtle roast flavors.
  • Noble-type German hop varieties.
  • Clean German lager yeasts are preferred.

What next?

Our next article will look at BJCP Category 5, ‘Bock‘, where we will examine the four styles making up this category.

If you have any questions or comments about this article, please do not hesitate to contribute to the discussion below.

* Beer Styles’ data is courtesy of BJCP.org.

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