The Five General Styles of Dark Lager

Did you know that lagers were mainly brewed dark and cask-conditioned until the 1840s? During that same time period, a Bavarian brewer by the name of John Wagner arrived in Philadelphia where he concocted the first American Lager beer. Prior to the 19th century, various styles of lager were brewed in southern parts of Germany. Today, I will be sharing the general five styles of dark lagers with you.

American Amber Lager


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The American Amber lager is known for showcasing both malts and hops in the beer. They tend to have a medium-bodied lager with a toasty or caramel-like malt character. For this style, hop bitterness can range from very low to medium-high. Some breweries even use the process of decoction with their mash and dry-hopping to achieve enhanced flavors.

Some of the top rated Pennsylvania American Amber lagers may be Yuengling’s Traditional lager, Lion Brewery’s Pocono lager and Saucony Creek’s Kutztown lager.

German-Style Dunkel


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The German-style dunkel is smooth, rich and complex, without being heavy or heady. This style is also referenced as a Munchner dunkel due to its chocolate-like, roast malt, bread-like aromas that arise from the use of Munich dark malt. Brewers tend to use decoction in brewing this beer (similar to the American amber lager) enhancing the depth and richness of its overall character. Without having an overly sweet impression, this style has a mild balance between malt sweetness and hop character.

A few common styles of German-style dunkel include Pennsylvania Brewing’s Penn Dark, Victory’s Dark lager and Church Brew Works own Pious Monk Dunkel.

German-Style Marzen


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The German-style marzen originated in Germany and continues to be the common beer served at their yearly Oktoberfest (Munich, Germany). The style marzen is named after the month of March because in most cases this beer was brewed in the early Spring. The marzen is rich in malt that has a balance of clean, hop bitterness.

Local examples of the German-style marzen can be Church Brew Works Oktoberfest, Sly Fox’s Oktoberfest and Lancaster Brewing’s Fest beer.

German-style Schwarzbier


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The German-style schwarzbier is referred to as a black lager with a very dark brown or black color. Commonly mistaken for German-style dunkels, schwarzbiers are drier, darker and more roast oriented. They have a mild roasted malt character without the associated bitterness. This style tends to have a light body, with a depth of color and taste. These beers are very refreshing and soul lifting, and they are perfect for a Winter drink!

According to BeerAdvocate the most popular styles of schwarzbier are Midnight Sun Brewing’s Espresso Black bier, Sprecher Brewing’s Black Bavarian, and Grand Teton Brewing’s 5 O’clock Shadow Double Black lager.

Vienna-Style Lager


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The Vienna-style Lager originated in Vienna, Austria where they used a three step decoction boiling process in brewing. The color of this style ranges from copper to reddish-brown and has a low to medium-low hop bitterness. These beers are characterized by a malt aroma and flavor that contains a notable degree of toasted and/or slightly roasted malt essence.

Philadelphia is home to some great Vienna lagers including 2nd Story brewing’s Fritzie’s lager, Neshaminy Creek’s Churchville lager and Fegley’s Amber lager.

Review Time

For those of you who took my quiz at the end of “What Do You Know About Wheat Beers?” post, check out the answers here!

  1. What do you think “Wit” in Witbier mean? White
  2. What is the most important ingredient when making wheat beers? Wheat
  3. Which beer do you think is an American wheat beer? Strawberry Wheat
  4. Out of the six beers listed in this blog post, which one do you think has the highest alcohol content? American-style Wheat Wine Ale
  5. What would be the perfect dessert pairing for a German-style Dunkelweizen? Banana Cream Pie

Look forward to this Friday where I will talk about my experience at the lovely Earth – Bread + Brewery!


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