Köztritzer Schwarzbier


Review Date 4/19/2004   Last Updated 7/27/2013  By John Staradumsky

When it comes to German black lager, Köstritzer Schwarzbier is about as good as it gets. It’s the original and still one of the best if you ask me, and thanks to the recent acquisition of the Köstritzer brewery by the larger German brewing concern Bitburger, it should now be more available to American beer drinkers.

I’ve enjoyed Köstritzer Schwarzbier in the past in half liter bottles and on draft. For the past half year or so, I’ve also been buying it in six-packs, a new and welcome packaging for this old favorite of mine. It’s nice to be able to stock six servings of Schwarzbier away in the fridge without spending $20.

What is Schwarzbier?
Quite literally, Schwarzbier means black beer. Most people are familiar with black beer in the form of stout (usually Guinness) and maybe porter. Unlike those beers, however, which are ales, German Schwarzbier is a lager. As such, it is cold fermented and cold lagered, and thus the finished product is relatively clean and free of fruity esters.

This generally makes the beer smoother and more drinkable. And Kostritzer Schwarzbier certainly is more drinkable than a stout might be, as well as a bit thinner in body. Even if you don’t like stouts as a matter of course, you might want to give this German classic a try.

The Köstritzer brewery can trace its lineage all the way back to 1543. Since it is located in Bad Kostritz in eastern Germany, the brewery had limited access to Western markets during the Iron Curtain years. The brewery survived, however, and its classic style with it.

Köstritzer Schwarzbier pours to a deep black color with a light and creamy head and a lightly roasty nose. The body is lighter than the color might suggest. The palate is slightly roasty and coffeeish, rather clean, slightly nutty, a little chocolaty, and a bit creamy. In the finish, the beer is again a tad roasty but a touch of sweetness comes through too.

Personally, I love Schwarzbier, and I think it’s a brew you can quaff lots of at any time of year. It’s not a widely produced style (though some American breweries produce credible examples, among them Sprecher and in the past Latrobe, surprisingly enough). But it is a well-loved one among beer enthusiasts.

Why not try a glass today?

Update 7/27/2013: Indeed, why not? And did you know Köstritzer Schwarzbier is now available in cans? It is. And at $1.99 for a 16.9 ounce can it's a good deal, too. Still just as described above, slightly roasty and coffeeish, rather clean, slightly nutty, a little chocolaty, and a bit creamy. It's the same beer, but that's exactly as it should be. A world-class brew, a steal at the price, and the definitive version of the style. if you've never tried it, what are you waiting for? And if you need more incentive, the can does say "Germany's No. 1 Black Lager Beer. 'Nuff said.

Update 6/12/2014: Here I am again enjoying the original schwarzbier, this time at Atlanta's Der Biergarten restaurant. It was a deliciously spicy, coffeeish dark lager and made the perfect dessert beer (well perhaps the second dessert beer after my Paulaner Salvator). Just wonderful, and a buy here at $6 for the half liter, $12 a liter.

And remember, try a new beer today, and drink outside the box.

*Pricing data accurate at time of review or latest update. For reference only, based on actual price paid by reviewer.