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Your Beermonger: The Darker Side of Lager

Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

Last week we looked at the most common forms of traditional German Lager found today. This week we’re going to run through some of the maltier and stronger styles of Lager out there, and look at examples of each that shouldn’t be too difficult to come by.

The irony is that Dark Lagers were the standard before the lighter Munich and Helles styles came to the fore. Today, many consumers tend to shy away from darker beers as they perceive ‘darker’ as being ‘overwhelmingly strong’ or ‘too flavorful’ (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this over the years; it still baffles me) but that isn’t necessarily the case. A great Dark Lager can give you all the smoothness and refreshment of a lighter one but with just a little added complexity, and often they make for great food pairings as well. Here’s a quick rundown to help you navigate the often baffling world of German beer labels:

Schwarzbier: Literally, “black beer.” Perhaps the single style of all of these that merits the most consideration by the American audience. Schwarzbiers get some intensely dark color from their malts, but tend not to overdo it with the roasty notes associated with malty beers. Monschof and Kostritzer are the two Germans to look for, but my go-to is Session Black Lager by Oregon’s Full Sail brewery.

Doppelbock: Bocks are stronger style Lagers (which we’ll be exploring further next week) and Doppel= “double.” Doppelbocks are the style of Dark Lager you’ll encounter the most here in the States, and while by definition they are stronger they are by no means all bruisers. The malt in Doppelbock tends to be a bit roastier and more chocolaty but the best examples find balance. Ayinger Celebrator is world-class, as are Weihenstephaner Korbinian, Augustinerbrau Maximator, and EKU 28. Bell’s makes Consecrator once per year and I think it’s about the best in the U.S. along with Troeg’s Troegenator and Smuttynose S’muttenator.

Rauchbier: Particular to Bamberg, Rauchbier (“smoke beer”) is an old favorite of mine but admittedly not for everyone. Rauchbier is made with malts dried over open beech wood flame, which imparts dramatic smokiness to the final product. Schlenkerla is pretty much the lone German option in Rauchbier; look for their Urbock and Marzen smoked Lagers (the Urbock is my choice, though their Weizen Rauchbier is a treat and maybe the most surprising food pairing beer I’ve ever had). Breweries in America have caught on to Rauchbier, with Sam Adams alone releasing two different versions in the past year alone (Bonfire and Cinder Bock). Also keep an eye out for Flying Dog’s Dog Schwarz.

Start experimenting with darker beers, especially as we get into the summer BBQ season. I’ve found that the malts in Dark Lager play exceptionally well with almost anything off the grill, and have the added benefit of being really nice to use in cooking too. Next week: seasonal and strong German Lager. Until next time.

Cheers!

Nick Anderson maintains a blog at www.beermonger.net, and can be found on Twitter at @The_Beermonger. Sign up for Arrowine’s money saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings at www.arrowine.com/mailing-list-signup.aspxThe views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

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