Just as I credit Greg Noonan with the “invention” of the so-called Black IPA, I also owe to Greg my appreciation for the style known as Schwarzbier. I guess I was vaguely aware of dark beers as early as high school. In college, dark versions of some of the mainstream continental lagers were around, and our college pub actually had a pseudo-Belgian dark ale on tap from time to time… It was not until I started brewing myself, at the age of about 30, that I realized or wondered about the status of dark lagers – oh yeah, Heineken and St. Pauli and Löwenbraü Dark… they’re lagers! I got it!
As I got more into it, of course, I had to begin sorting and refining what I understood about styles. Writing the Seven Barrel Brewery Brewers’ Handbook with Greg brought it all into focus – there was a difference between a Munich Dunkel and a Continental Dark – a difference born of a focus on either malt or hops, but not really on both. Where a Bavarian Dunkel is malty, sweet, with the hops only there to balance, the Schwarzbier (basis for the northern German dark lagers) is more of a crisp hoppy beer that just happens to be quite dark. Greg referred to the style as a Schwarz-pils, suggesting that it had more in common, taste and bitterness-wise, with a Czech/Bohemian pilsner than with a Munich lager. So that’s how I approach the brewing of a Schwarzbier – it needs to be dark, of course, black, even, but it should also be somewhat light in body and crisp – hoppy like a good pilsner, dark like a porter, and, of course, supremely drinkable.
Triple S Schwarzbier
5 gallons, all grain
- 7.5 lbs. Bohemian Pilsner malt
- 3/4 lb. Cara-aroma malt
- 2 oz. Carafa I malt
- 2 oz. black malt
- 4 oz Melanoidin malt
- 1 oz. Spalter hop pellets (@5.0% aa)
- 1 oz. Saphir hop pellets (@5.6% aa)
- 1 oz. Saaz hop pellets (@4.0% aa)
- recultured yeast from Arcobraü Zwickel Lager
- 3/4 cup corn sugar (for priming)
Crush grains. Heat 13 quarts water to 162°F. Mash in grains and hold 60 minutes at 150°F. Heat another 15 quarts water to 168°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collect 26 quarts sweet wort. Bring to boil, add 1/2 oz. Spalter hops. Boil 30 minutes, add Saphir hops. Boil another 15 minutes, add Saaz hops. Boil another 10 minutes, add the other 1/2 oz. Spalter hops. Boil 5 more minutes, remove from heat and chill to 70°F. Take a hydrometer reading and pitch yeast. Seal and ferment at 65°F for two days then move to a cooler spot (50°F) for eight to ten days. Rack to secondary, condition cold (40°F) for three to four weeks. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and age warm for three days, then store cold for six weeks.
Notes on yeast: I had already brewed with this Arcobraü culture a couple weeks ago (a Bohemian Pilsner). When I racked that beer I scooped up a cup or so of the dregs from the bottom of the primary and stored it, refrigerated, in a sterilized glass milk bottle. A few days before brewing the Schwarzbier, I built the yeast dregs up to nearly a quart of slurry by feeding it about 1/2 cup of weak boiled wort (+/- 1020 OG) every other day… When I pitched it the yeast was very active and fermentation began in the primary with about three hours.