Bitter IPAs and boozy, barrel-aged beers might shock the palate if you’re trying to introduce a curious newcomer to craft beer. Instead, it’s generally better to hand them a beer style that simultaneously feels familiar and also enlightens — dark lagers embody those traits.
German-style Schwarzbiers, dunkels, bocks, and American dark lagers might seem intimidating, but appearances can be deceiving. Dark lagers drink like their golden counterparts but enjoy exquisite depths of flavor that demonstrate a brewer’s skill and imagination. So, if you are trying to get a friend to see the light, have them try something dark. Here are some craft beers that’ll help them get started.
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Magnetron Black Lager | Metropolitan Brewing | Chicago
Tracy Hurst, Metropolitan Co-founder and President, explained, “Magnetron is a gateway beer in the best way; because it pleasantly surprises people. And being pleasantly surprised is a memorable experience. For some pretty good reasons, here in the States, we have the impression that the blacker a beer is, the heavier, boozier, viscous, etc. Of course, we couldn’t be more wrong.“
The 2016 World Cup Silver Medal winning German-style Schwarzbier is roasty and rich, almost dark chocolatey, but super clean and dry on the finish. Hurst added, “The Germans drink Schwarzbier by the liter. There’s no way this beer can be heavy on the palate or high in ABV.”
1554 Black Lager | New Belgium Brewing | Fort Collins, CO & Asheville, NC
New Belgium 1554 pours a gorgeous mahogany with malt accompanied by subtle notes of fruit, herb, spice, and coffee. Bryan Simpson, New Belgium PR director notes, “1554 has this romantic origin story wherein the original research materials were lost to a flood, our brew team traveled to Belgium to learn more from a crumbling text in an old village archive, and it was only our second beer to embrace a lager yeast. The beer itself has the roasty, malty and chocolatey notes of a porter or stout, but the lighter lager yeast gives it a very approachable and satisfying drinkability. Creating balanced beers that are complex, interesting and approachable is a great challenge for any brewer, and one we embrace wholeheartedly as part of the portfolio at New Belgium.”
Baba Black Lager | Uinta Brewing | Salt Lake City, UT
Baba, a five-time medal-winning and certified organic black lager, includes a few attributes common to smoked porters. A pleasant malt aroma graces the drinker’s nose before the beauty of the caramel malt flavor is enjoyed. Baba’s smokey surprise lingering in the background provides depth. The beer feels like a standard lager, but it will certainly wake up a craft newcomer’s palate from its slumber.
Smoke & Dagger Black Lager | Jack’s Abby | Framingham, MA
Arley Donovan, marketing coordinator for Jack’s Abby, described Smoke & Dagger as, “A black lager/smoked porter hybrid but the smokey campfire notes are not at all overpowering, and they really accompany the other flavors and aromas of chocolate and caramel. It has a great mouthfeel, not too heavy and not too light which makes it very drinkable and a good gateway to other beers of this variety.” Of course, one need not be new to appreciate it. Indeed, Smoke & Dagger is a favorite of the brewery’s co-owner, Sam Hendler.
Shiner 97 Bohemian Black Lager | Spoetzl Brewery | Shiner, TX
Visually, Shiner 97 is a twin to stout beer with an opaque black color and tan head. However, the light-bodied dark lager can be consumed like cold water on a hot day. The moderate carbonation also reminds one of a pilsner, albeit more subdued. Alongside the prevalent malt sweetness, flavors involve gentle toastiness up front, a hint of oat in the middle, and a slight hoppiness at the end.
Commentator Doppelbock | Pollyanna Brewing | Lemont, IL
Pollyanna Brewing has two brewers with resumes that include Doemens Academy in Munich; a Bock is in this brewery’s wheelhouse. One of them, Brewer Chris Koentz, explained, “Commentator, our Doppelbock lager, is a big ole’ German lager that will invite the novice drinker as well as the seasoned beer geek.” He added, “It’s slightly sweet, low in bitterness, and finishes with a pleasant, clean toasty caramel flavor that leaves you wanting more. Doppelbocks are not as roasty as an imperial stout, they don’t have as much bitterness as an American barleywine, but their rich malt character combined with the depth of flavor derived from Maillard reactions results in a complex, flavorful beer for those who delve beyond the easy drinking exterior.”
Munich Dunkel | Carver Brewing | Durango, CO
A German-style dunkel, sometimes referred to as a Munchner dunkel, offers beer fans a dark beer option that is known for a chocolate-like, roast malt, bread-like or biscuit-like aromas that come from the use of Munich dark malt. Despite the flavors, this beer does not offer an overly sweet impression, but rather a mild balance between malt sweetness and hop character. Expect roasty flavors up front, followed by a clean lager finish. So good, Carver Brewing‘s Dunkel won Gold at the 2013 GABF. One of the beer’s most unique features is its exceptionally smooth texture — most enjoyable.
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