In the same year that Anton Dreher made the first factory-made amber lager at his brewery Schwechat near Vienna, Gabriel Sedlmayer made the first dark one at the Spaten brewery in Munich.  The reason that neither began with a blond lager was that at the time the technology that brought pale malts to central Europe was in its infancy, and with the exception of Weizenbier, all German beer was dark. 

Dunkel (or Dunkeles – sometimes Münchner)

Like most of Germany’s breweries also Sperber Bräu in Sulzbach-Rosenberg brews a Dunkel (photo: André Brunnsberg)

The darker session-strength lager style of Bavaria should be a malt-driven, smooth, sometimes chocolate-noted beer often made with caramalt, which combines session strength (4.4-5.6% ABV) with surprising depth.  It should not be harsh or roasted.  Though mostly low on hops some Franconian examples push this boundary.  Though almost as prone to lesser imitations as blond lagers, its popularity has gradually spread across Europe and elsewhere.


The black lagers of northern and eastern Germany returned to the fold after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.  Low on hops but high on caramel, the best remain palatably dry despite this, though well short of stout-like.  They were largely a specialty of Saxony and Thuringia Thuringen), in Soviet-controlled East Germany.  Since reunification they are growing in stature.

Bohemian Tmavý (or Tmavé)

The Czech take on darker lager has a caramel roasted in palate with variable hopping, fruity esters adding a dab of plum or dried fruits. Some are described as Černý (or Černé), implying black.  Its two levels of intensity are termed Ležák (11o – 12o) and Speciální (13o – 14o).  A tiny but consistent level of diacetyl is allowed.  The U Fleků brewery in Prague has been making a beer in this style for over 500 years, largely unchanged but for the yeast.

Other European dark lagers

Across Central and Eastern Europe, as far north as the Baltic States, most session-strength beers in the 20th century were lagers of two types, one being pale or blond, and the other brown or black, sitting somewhere in the triangle between Dunkel, Tmavé and Schwarz, their shared role to be “the dark one”.