Are All Dark Beers ‘Heavy’?

Generally, people often love or hate dark beers. These malty treats especially thrive during two times of the year: winter and during the month of March. Visit any grocery store during the colder months, and the aisles will be stocked with winter-themed beers. Come March, Dry Irish Stouts are generally abundant on draft (along with some popular name-brand Irish Stouts at the grocery store beer aisle).

If you tend to avoid darker beers because they’re too heavy, did you know there are several styles that are refreshing and light on your palate? Here’s a non-exhaustive list of some of tasty dark beers to try. While these styles are few and far between at the grocery store aisle, they can likely be found at your neighborhood bottle shop or tap house. Cheers!

Dark American Lager

Overall Impression (according to the BCJP): A somewhat sweeter version of standard/premium lager with a little more body and flavor.

Dark American Lagers are moderately crisp with some level of sweetness (unlike the Schwarzbier, which follows). Flavor notes may include coffee, molasses, or chocolate with a hop bitterness of low to medium featuring very light fruitiness. Dark American Lagers are often highly-carbonated yet still smooth, with a light to medium mouthfeel.


Overall Impression (according to the BCJP): A dark German lager that balances roasted yet smooth malt flavors with moderate hop bitterness.

Also commonly referred to as a black lager, Schwarzbier originated as a regional specialty from Thuringen and Franconia in Germany. If the internet is to be believed, Schwarzbier might be the oldest continuously brewed style in the world. Its flavor boasts light to moderate nutty and roasted malt flavors, occasionally with a bitter-chocolate note that lingers to the finish. The mouthfeel is smooth with a medium-light to medium body, with moderate carbonation.

Dunkel Lager

Overall Impression (according to the BCJP): Characterized by depth and complexity of Munich malt and the accompanying melanoidins. Rich Munich malt flavors, but not as intense as a bock or as roasted as a Schwarzbier.

The Munich Dunkel shares a common lineage of dark Bavarian lagers with Schwarzbiers and Rauchbiers. The distinct tasting profiles of these beers began to emerge in the 1820’s thanks to advancements in malt kilning, with Spaten brewing the first modern dunkel in the 1830s. Common tasting notes include caramel, chocolate, nuttiness, or toast with hop flavors low to none. The dunkel lager is slightly heavier than those listed above, with a medium to medium-body with moderate carbonation and opportunity for a slight alcoholic warmth.

Dry Irish Stout

Overall Impression (according to the BCJP): A black beer with a pronounced roasted flavor, often similar to coffee. The balance can range from fairly even to quite bitter, with the more balanced versions having a slight malty sweetness and the bitter versions being quite dry.

Irish Stouts were developed by Arthur Guinness, who was intrigued by the new flavor profiles that the invention of the malt kin brought to brewing. Guinness experimented with using high roasted malts to develop a coffee-like flavor in the beer. Dry Irish Stouts feature several differences from British Stouts and Porters, including a creamier and fuller mouthfeel. Their roasted grain and malt pairs with a medium to high hop bitterness and a dry finish with caramel or unsweetened chocolate notes. Visit an Irish pub, and you’ll no doubt be able to find a Dry Stout on draft. Additionally, many pubs serve their Irish Stouts on nitro to play up the creamy mouthfeel.

Black IPA/Cascadian Dark Ale

Overall Impression (according to the BCJP): A beer with the dryness, hop-forward balance, and flavor characteristics of an American IPA, only darker in color – but without strongly roasted or burnt flavors. The flavor of darker malts is gentle and supportive, not a major flavor component. Drinkability is a key characteristic.

The Black IPA was not created and popularized until about the year 1990, which is relatively new in the world of beer history. Depending on the region, this style is referred to as either a Black IPA or a Cascadian Dark Ale and is popular within the Pacific Northwest. This style is known to play on both hop and malt flavors, with tropical, citrus, and berry notes present with dark malts contributing to the perceived bitterness and should not clash with the hops. The mouthfeel will occasionally be creamy with a slight alcoholic warmth.

What other dark beers did we miss, or do you enjoy?


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