Scharzpils, Schwarzes Pils
Pronunciation guide for
Schwarzbier means "black beer" in German. It is a medium-bodied, malt-accented dark brew, very opaque and deep-sepia in color, with a chewy texture and a firm, creamy, long-lasting head. In spite of its dark color, it comes across as a soft and elegant brew that is rich, mild, and surprisingly balanced. It never tastes harsh, toasty or acrid. The beer is often referred to as a Schwarzpils, a "black Pils," but, unlike a blond Pils, which can be assertively bitter, the hop bitterness in Schwarzbier is always gentle and subdued.
In a glass, Schwarzbier looks much like a British dark ale, but looks can be deceiving. Schwarzbier, unlike a British ale, has a clean lager taste that leaves next to no perception of fruitiness on the palate. Instead, Schwarzbier produces very mild, almost bittersweet, notes of chocolate, coffee, and vanilla. Like most traditional German lagers, Schwarzbier has a malty middle, but the sweetness is never cloying or overpowering. The beer is moderately to well attenuated and the finish tends to be dry. Its alcohol level by volume is in the range of 4.5 to 5%, rarely higher. To accentuate the Schwarzbier's dark elegance and appealing head, always serve it in a tall, fluted or tulip-shaped glass.
Related beer style:
Black and Malty
Schwarzbier is to lager what stout or porter is to ale. Essentially, it is a darker version of the Dunkel. This is perhaps the quickest and easiest way to understand the true nature of this beer style. The Schwarzbier style originated in southern and southeastern Germany.
Among the best-known of today's commercial Schwarzbier versions are the Kloster Mönchshof Schwarzbier from the Franconian city of Kulmbach, in northern Bavaria, and the Köstritzer Schwarzbier from the Thuringian spa town of Bad Köstritz, not far from Germany's cultural capital of Weimar. The Kloster Mönchshof Schwarzbier is made by the Kulmbach A.G. brewing company, which is a successor to a medieval monastery brewery that was secularized in 1791. The Köstritzer Schwarzbier brewery is to the east of Kulmbach, in the neighboring state of Thuringia. It was founded in 1543.
The Kloster Mönchshof Schwarzbier has an alcohol-by-volume level of 4.9%. It has a soft, lingering hop aftertaste that is well balanced on the palate by a strong, dark maltiness. The Köstritzer Schwarzbier is a bit heftier than the Kloster Mönchshof brew and is today the biggest seller among all the German dark lagers. It has a slightly bitter-toasty to chocolatey middle that is almost edgy, followed by a smooth, rounded aftertaste that lingers gently in the dry finish. The Köstritzer Schwarzbier has an alcohol by volume level of 4.8%.
The oldest documentary evidence of beer brewing in Kulmbach is a reference to beer making in a charter letter by the Bishop of Bamberg, in 1174. Another document dating from 1349 confirms that, by that time, local Augustine monks were already operating a complete brew house in their cloister. Although it is likely that the monks brewed ales instead of lagers in the fourteenth century (lager brewing took hold in Germany starting in the sixteenth century), their brew house would create the forerunner of the first Schwarzbier "brand," the now classic Kulmbacher Kloster Mönchshof Schwarzbier. The name means literally "black beer from the monks' courtyard cloister."