Schwarzbier Recipes – German Black Beer

by Brad Smith on November 16, 2010 · 10 comments

Schwarzbier (which means “black beer”) is a dark lager from Germany that has its origins in the middle ages. It is a medium bodied dark beer, nearly opaque in color and soft and mild despite its dark appearance. Today Schwarzbier is popular outside Germany as well, with a number of US breweries and micro-breweries producing popular variations. This week we take a look at home brewing Schwarzbier, the black beer style, and some Schwarzbier recipes.

Schwarzbier History

Schwarzbier is actually the oldest European beer that we have hard scientific evidence on. According to a BYO article (Nov 2002), a crock was found near Kulmbach Germany dating back to 800 BC with blackened barley bread inside – the standard material used to brew ancient Germanic beer. Germanic tribes were brewing dark barley based beer in Europe for hundreds of years before the Ceasar arrived and spread the beer brewing knowledge they gained from the Egyptians. Even modern evidence provides documentation of beer brewing in Kulmbach back to 1174 in a letter by the Bishop of Bamburg.

There is also substantial evidence that Schwarzbier was brewed throughout the middle ages in Thuingia and Saxony. The Braunschweiger Mumme brewery in Braunschweig brewed the beer going back to at least 1390 and it was brewed in Thuringia at least as early as 1543. The style is still widely brewed today in Germany from Thuringen to nothern Franconia as well as many other countries throughout the world.

The Schwarzbier “Black Beer” Style

Schwarzbier is a very dark, somewhat mild lager. Some describe Schwarzbier as a darker version of Bavarian Dunkel, but even this description falls short. It is drier than Munich Dunkel with a slight edge to the profile.

It is also much darker than Dunkel. It is very opaque – ranging in color from black ro dark sepia. However, unlike dark British beers it does no use roasted barley or display any roasted flavors. It also lacks the fruitiness and dicetyl of British Ales. It is a lager with a bittersweet, chocolate flavor with hints of coffee or vanilla.

Like most German beers it has a slight malty flavor to it with no up-front bitterness. The BJCP style guide lists it with 22-32 IBUs balancing an original gravity of 1.046-1.052. The final gravity ranges from 1.010-1.016 giving 4.4-5.4% alcohol by volume. Color ranges from 17-30 SRM with many examples on the dark side.

Brewing a Schwarzbier

The key to making a good Schwarzbier is achieving the appropriate balance between the malt base, specialty grains and hops so that none of these ingredients overpowers the others. The base malt for Schwarzbier is typically about 40-50% Munich and 30-40% Pilsner malt with darker specialty grains making up the balance of the grain bill. If brewing with extract, try to find an extract that has Munich malt in it or a mix of Munich and Pale malts.

Specialty grains provide balance to black beer. The key is achieving the dark color needed without providing too much roasted flavor (i.e. it is not a British Porter or Stout). Therefore roast malt and roasted barley should not be used. My preference is to use a mix of medium colored Caramel/Crystal malts with a small amount of Carafa Special II. In a pinch you could also consider adding a small amount of Chocolate malt or dark Crystal/Caramel, but using too much will give an undesirable roasted character.

A moderate single infusion mash schedule in the 154F range is appropriate to the style, as the beer has moderate body and flavor.

Noble hops such as Hallertau or Saaz are used for bittering to the 22-32 IBU level. A small amount of noble hop aroma is allowable, so you could add some hops at flame-out or dry hop if you want a slight hop aroma. Hop flavor should balance the malt, and not dominate the beer.

Clean fermenting German lager yeasts are used for fermentation at lager temperatures, along with appropriate lagering (cold storage) once the beer has completed fermentation. Reasonable choices include White Labs WLP830 German Lager as well as WLP833 Bock Lager yeast.

Schwarzbier Recipes

Here are some black beer recipes from the BeerSmith Recipe Archive:

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

jay January 5, 2011 at 8:16 am

How would this style compare to the black beer brewed at U Flecku in Prague?

Beer Recipes January 5, 2011 at 5:08 pm

Sounds good, I have had a couple of different beers from the brewing company and they consistently brew quality products. Their last seasonal was delicious, one of my favorites. I’m looking forward to purchasing a 6 pack.

Brad Smith January 6, 2011 at 5:06 am

I really don’t know, but there might be some similarities as many of the continental lagers use similar ingredients and techniques.

Chris March 25, 2011 at 4:34 pm

This probably my favorite beer style, I first had this when I went to Eisenach Germany in Thuringia,
Kostritzer was the brand and i would love to have a clone recipe for this.

Chris March 31, 2011 at 6:18 am

Would FWH be appropriate for this style?

Brad Smith March 31, 2011 at 2:10 pm

I have not tried it myself, but it might blend in well given the profile of the beer. — Brad

Bach January 16, 2012 at 9:43 am

Hey Jay, saw your comment from long time ago.
U Fleku is a regular Schwartz beer – it used to be very caramel flavored(that’s how I remember it – but my memory might be misleading, since only other beer I knew in 1980s was Czech lagers),
last time I had it I was suprised, that it was pretty dry, thin and drinkable.
I made the clone according to Dornbush’s article(brew day with Chramosil- the U Fleku brewmaster), but it was too caramely sweet, when compared to original.
It varies from 12-13 Plato.
I think, that it is not filtered.

Dave January 29, 2014 at 11:02 am

haven,t tried yet. I have been looking for a good all grain Schwarzbier recipe for a while. i got hooked on this stile with Saranac Brewing “Black forest”. I have been brewing for about 15 years and prefer IPA and German style lagers. I don’t care for the sweet brown ales. This is a nice balance between a brown and a german lager.

Steve December 30, 2014 at 9:11 am

I really want to clone kostritzer. It is my favorite beer. The claim to fame is that it’s a “black beer with a blond soul” with an extra light body and subtle dark flavored. Most other schwartzbiers are heavier in body and more bitter. I tried following the ingredient recommendations above and it came out true to style but heavier than kostritzer. How to lighten up the body and flavor?

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