For those new to craft brewing, ‘Black Lager’ might sound like some new-fangled hybrid beer. In reality, these dark, roasty, yet easy-drinking brews trace their heritage all the way back to the Middle Ages — the first documented record of “Schwarzbier” in Germany dates from 1390.
Now, with more and more American craft brewers embracing the style, it looks as though this venerable brew is poised for a comeback.
If the demand on craft beer retailer Tavour is any indication, it certainly seems likely. The company works with more than 650 breweries, connecting beer lovers across the country with brews they normally wouldn’t find in their local markets. It attracts a lot of cutting-edge beer geeks, and trends on the app-based platform are often precursors to larger movements in American craft brewing.
In 2021, Tavour saw more Black Lagers than ever before — a staggering 400% increase over the past two years. Highly-regarded breweries like Texas’ Weathered Souls Brewing, California’s Central Coast Brewing, and South Carolina’s Westbrook Brewing (pictured above) released versions through the app-based platform. And they proved to be among the most popular beers on Tavour, all selling out quickly upon release, and garnering high ratings from tasters.
Westbrook Brewing co-founder Ed Westbrook saw similar trends in his home state when he released their Beer to Drink When it’s Cold Outside Black Lager.
“Our local distributor sold out pretty much immediately, which surprised us both I think,” he explains.
Greg Buergler, head brewer at Central Coast Brewing (who won Gold at the Great American Beer Festival for their Schwarzbier) has noticed the same thing happening on the west coast.
“The California weather has converted the Stout and Porter drinkers to this lighter bodied style,” he says. “It’s the best of both worlds when it comes to consumer demands. The roasted malt background with the subtle coffee, caramel, and chocolate notes, and the light body and low ABV allow it to be an everyday session beer.”
That, in a nutshell, is what gives this style such broad appeal. It’s made with roasted and chocolate malts, so it brings the same mocha-like flavors usually associated with Stouts. But it’s brewed like a Lager, meaning they have an extremely light body and less alcohol than most modern dark beers.
Will the popularity of the style continue to grow? Growing demand on Tavour suggests it will, and plenty of breweries seem to agree, as they continue to brew more Black Lagers every year.
A rise in these roasty beers would definitely please a lot of brewers — when asked what he loves about this style, Ed Westbrook responded simply: “It would be faster to say what’s not appealing about it… which is nothing!”