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German Black Beer - Schwarzbier

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copyright Koestritzer Brewery used with permission

Light colored beer has only been popular for about one hundred years. In fact, at the beginning of the 20th century, dark beer was the most common drink served. This lies with the fact that the brewing and malting technology had to improve to the point that lightly roasted malt could be used in a successful brew.

As Dortmunder and Pilsner - type beers caught on however, dark beer took a back seat and became regional specialties. Bavaria had "Dunkel," Düsseldorfer its "Altbier" and Saxon and Thuringia had "Schwarzbier," also known as black beer.

Before the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, black beer was a niche product in Eastern Germany, mostly exported to Hungary. With the Reunification, however, old brewing traditions were resurrected, including the labels, to create "Spezialitäten aus Ostdeutschland" (East German Specialties).

Schwarzbier is not a "Starkbier," but a "Vollbier" with about 11% "Stammwürzgehalt" and an ABV of 4.8 to 5 percent. It is dark brown to almost black in color and opaque. It is not fruity, bitter or sour, but has an easy maltiness and smooth finish.

The barley malt used in "Schwarzbier" is special. The hulled-barley, called "Röstmalz," is kiln dried long and hot, turning it dark brown to black. This imparts a dark color to the beer but also gives the beer intensive notes of chocolate or coffee. "Röstmalz" is also used in small quantities to color other types of beer.

"Schwarzbier" is a bottom- - fermenting lager beer. This differs from porters and stouts in that they are usually made with top - fermenting yeast and some unmalted, roasted barley as well as malted barley. Porters and stouts are usually ranked as "Schankbier," due to their lower specific gravity.

The oldest recorded "Schwarzbier" is Braunsweiger Mumme from 1390. The modern leader in production is "Köstritzer Schwarzbierbrauerei."

The traditional glass is the "Schwarzbierpokal" (see illustration) and the optimal drinking temperature is about 45°F (8°C).

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