When most people say, “I like lagers,” they probably mean they like their beers light. “Lager” is often a broad catchall for misunderstood parts, like “Africa” or “rock ‘n’ roll.” Thanks to a unique kind of yeast that ferments beer slowly and at cooler temperatures, all lagers, from ambers to zwickels, have a crisp, clean finish, but as the newly popular black lagers prove, they’re not all pale, yellow and fizzy.
Black lager (also known as schwarzbier, if you want to be German about it), is an old style of brew that never quite caught on. It could be the oxymoronic-seeming name, but it’s definitely not the taste. Flavors of full-roast coffee and toasted brown bread seem to hover in the air when you pour it into a glass, and despite the beer’s darkness and big flavors, it has none of the anchoring heft of a stout or porter. This is a dark beer for people who don’t think they like dark beer.
Once the rage in German spa towns—a bedridden Goethe allegedly recovered his sturm und drang with schwarzbier—black lagers these days are only popular in geographical pockets, like, oddly, Texas. But that’s about to change. Guinness will release a black lager this month, putting this paradoxical, underappreciated side of the lager family in the spotlight. Or is it black light?