Nick Carr on June 19, 2015 3 Comments History of Schwarzbier Black beers have been a major player in not only the revival of the American craft brew scene, but on a wider world stage too. Porters and Stouts are a cornerstone of beer culture, but there’s another black beer, an older, yet far less known inhabitor of this corner of the color spectrum. Schwarzbier, literally “black beer” in German, may be the oldest continuously brewed beer style in the world. Evidence of just how old this beer style is was uncovered in 1935 by archaeologists working in a Celtic tomb seven miles from Kulmbach, in northern Bavaria. Along with the body of a high ranking Celt, were all the goods and weapons his people believed he would need in the afterlife. One of these artifacts was an amphora with the remains of a kind of black beer and some bits of partially baked bread (the fermenting starter of the time). This tomb is nearly 3,000 years old (800 BC), making it the oldest evidence of brewing found in Europe. We can deduce that, since this was a black beer and it was brewed in the vicinity of Kulmbach, which still brews black beer today, this quite possibly is an ancient ancestor to modern schwarzbier. But it isn’t until 1174 that we find the first documented proof of Kulmbach as a brewing center. Despite the long intervening years between these two pieces of evidence it is quite plausible, even likely, that some sort of brewing culture was happily entrenched in the area throughout. If this is the case, and a few written records of Germanic brewing and a smattering of evidence seem to support this idea, it would make Kulmbach the oldest active brewing center in the world. Now, granted there are many older cultures that had major centers of brewing, but for one reason or another—one example being the rise of Islam in the Middle East—most of these centers did not remain active. The first documentation of the schwarzbier as a style comes in 1390 from Braunschweig (Brunswick). Here a beer called Braunschweiger mumme was brewed. Around the same time Thuringia and Northern Bavaria were brewing something close to this same style. These beers were likely brewed with ale yeast, though the first lagers were just around the corner. The 16th century would find lager brewing in full magnificent swing. Kolmbach remains central to the story of schwarzbier because it was here that monks would first brew the famous Kulmbacher Kloster Mӧnchshof Schwarzbier, which translates to “black beer from the monks’ courtyard cloister,” and is still brewed today. Today schwarzbier is finding fertile ground in the American craft brewing (two of the three World Beer Cup winners last year were American breweries). Between its deep roots, a few old Bavarian breweries who work hard to keep the style authentic, and the new found interest in America and across the world, this stereotype defying black beer looks like it may be entering another golden age. Style Profile & Characteristics The guidelines for the Schwarzbier beer style are set by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Committee. The below details are a summary of what a Schwarzbier should represent. Quick Characteristics Color Range: 17 – 30 SRM Original Gravity: 1.046 – 1.052 OG Final Gravity: 1.010 – 1.016 FG IBU Range: 20 – 30 ABV Range: 4.4 – 5.4% Appearance: Ranges from Rich Copper to Chocolate Brown; Spectacular Clarity; Creamy, Tan-Tinged Head. Aroma: Sweet Munich Malts Dominate; Possible Noble Hoppiness; Notes of Chocolate, Caramel, Nuts or Coffee Possible; No Diacetyl or Fruity Esters. Flavor: Strong Munich Maltiness; Notes of Chocolate, Nuttiness, Caramel & Toast; Low Hop Bitterness; No Fruity Esters or Diacetyl. Mouthfeel: Medium to Medium-Full Body with Firm Mouthfeel; Medium Carbonation; Low Alcohol Warmth. Food Pairings: Spicy Foods, BBQ, Fränkische Bratwurst, Thick Cut of Steak, Cabbage Rolls, Dark Chocolate. The BJCP classifies this style as a “Dark European Lager.” It can be found in their guidelines as category 8B. The only other beer style in this category is: Munich Dunkel (8A). Appearance: Schwarzbier is usually has good clarity with a rich copper to chocolate brown color. Many examples will have a ruby tint radiating from their depths. A creamy head, tan tinged to varying degrees will top the dark liquid. Aroma: Possibility of some noble hop aroma, though the sweetness of Munich malts should dominate. This malt aroma can be of bread crust or toast with secondary characteristics ranging from chocolate, caramel, nuts, and/or toffee. No diacetyl or fruity esters should be present. Mouthfeel: A high presence of unfermentables will provide a firm mouthfeel and medium to medium-full body. It should not be cloying. Some astringency and low alcohol warming are acceptable. Medium carbonation. Taste: Munich malt all the way here, baby. The taste will be rich in melanoidins creating a character reminiscent of bread crust. Some chocolate, nuttiness, caramel, and toast is ok as they can build complexity, but burnt roasted characteristics, and domineering caramel should not be present at all. Hop bitterness should be noticeable at a low level, though the malt should defiantly be a bigger presence. Hop flavor should not be apparent. No fruity esters or diacetyl. Aftertaste may take on more hop bitterness due to a medium-dry finish, but malty character remains key. Award-Winning Examples of the Style Schwartz Bier from Devils Backbone Brewing Company (Lexington, VA)Great American Beer Festival Winner, Gold, 2014. Available year round. Lobo Negro from Pedernales Brewing Company (Fredericksburg, TX)Great American Beer Festival Winner, Silver, 2014. Available year round. Duck-Rabbit Schwarzbier from The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery (Farmville, NC)Great American Beer Festival Winner, Bronze, 2014. Available in late June. Black Bavarian from Sprecher Brewing Company (Glendale, WI)World Beer Cup Winner, Gold, 2014. Available year round. BraufactuM Darkon from Die Internationale Brau-Manufacture (Frankfurt, Germany)World Beer Cup Winner, Gold, 2014. Available year round though may be hard to find in the U.S. Black Thunder from Austin Beerworks (Austin, TX)World Beer Cup Winner, Bronze, 2014. Great American Beer Festival Winner, Gold, 2013. Available year round in cans and on tap. Tips for Brewing Your Own Schwarzbier Recipe If you’re interested in brewing your own Schwarzbier recipe at home, here are a few things you should know going into it. The Grain Bill: Your base malt for any schwarzbier recipe will be Munich. To this most recipes will add some pilsner malt and one or two dark specialty malts. Now the proportions of these malts range extensively. One way to look at it during recipe formulation is: a higher percentage of Munich correlates to an older rendition of the Schwartzbier style. So, you can basically do anywhere from 100% Munich down to 20-30% at the low end. Most of the difference will be made up of the German pilsner, leaving about 10% for the specialty malts. The Munich gives the beer a distinct nutty and toasty character, creating a background of bitter-sweetness. The Pilsner malt, on the other hand, lends the dry crispness of a lager. So, depending on what characters you want to showcase you can add more of one malt and less of the other. Specialty malts include mid-colored crystal malts for a little caramel character and chocolate malt (use very little of this otherwise you will end up with an unwanted roasty character). The last and most critical addition is some form of black malt. This is a black beer right? You have to get that color from somewhere, but with most black malts comes that pesky (at least for this beer) strong roasted flavors. But no worries, you can get around this by using dehusked black malts, such as Weyermann’s Carafa I, II, or III. The color rating goes up with the numbers, but I suggest going middle of the road for your first batch (Carafa II), it seems to give the most color with the least amount of added roasted character. If not quite ready to take on the challenges of all-grain brewing I recommend a partial-mash. Use Pilsner and Munich malt extract if available. Then take whatever specialty grains you’ve decided upon and steep them for 30 minutes in about a gallon of water per pound of grain. Remove the grain from this wort, dissolve the extract into it, and continue with your boil. Doing this steeping mini-mash can add freshness, needed color, and character to any extract ingredient kit. Water: Water is an ingredient just like anything else in your brew. Many times we don’t consider our water or how we can manipulate it to get the best results for the style we’re creating. Most times we can do this with no overt consequences to the finished product, but it is as much a part of the art of brewing as any other ingredient or technique you use. When you delve deeper into your brewing hobby it is something to start considering. This is especially true where lagers are concerned. At the very least you should de-chlorinate your water (this actually goes for all your brewing water no matter what style). Beyond this there are several online calculators where you can plug in your current water profile and, in this case, the Munich water profile and find out what needs to be done to match them. The Mash: For those doing all-grain your mash couldn’t be much simpler. A single infusion mash right around 154°F emphasizes the alpha amylase enzyme (but only slightly), for a beer with more long chain sugars creating a beer with moderate body and some nice mouthfeel and richness in flavor. Hops: Much like Pilsner, hop bitterness should be a noticeable presence in this beer, but should not dominate the malt character. Hop aroma should remain slight if at all. German noble hops with soft aroma, moderate flavor, and medium bitterness should be sot out. Tettnang and Hallertau would work great. Avoid overly aromatic hops. American hops with German pedigrees, such as Liberty, could also be used. Yeast: Pick a clean fermenting German lager yeast. Some possible choices include: Wyeast: Bavarian Lager (2206) or Pilsen Lager (2007) White Labs: German Lager (WLP830) Dry Yeast: SafLager S-23 is a good choice. Secondary ferment (Lager) for at least two months before bottling. Then enjoy your hard work! Cheers!