How To Brew International Dark Lager | Homebrew Challenge

by Steve Thanos | Last Updated: July 18, 2020

International Dark Lager is the dark version of the International Pale Lagers often brewed by large, industrial breweries. These dark lagers were brewed to appeal to a broad audience. It is a sweeter version of the International Pale Lager with some more body and favor, but equally restrained bitterness.

There are some styles that are similar to International Dark Lagers. These styles include: Munich Dunkel, Schwarzbier, and other dark lagers.

However, there is less flavor and richness in the International Dark Lagers than the beer styles I listed above. Usually, adjuncts are used, as with the International Pale Lager.

Perception

Dark beers, especially Stouts and Porters, have always received a bad rap. Oftentimes novice beer drinkers think of such beers as heavy and too roasty. I am sure this same perception would carry over to International Dark Lagers as well. However, that perception is totally inaccurate.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

Many larger breweries will use a natural beer coloring called Sinamar. This was first introduced by Weyermann Company in Germany in 1902. It is a natural coloring derived from debittered Carafa Special II.

It allows for a beer to turn dark without the worry of a roast character. Use one fluid ounce in five gallons, while cooling, to add 5 SMR of color. To make a pale golden beer dark brown or black, add 3 to 4 ounces of Sinamar to 5 gallons.

Commercial Examples

  • Baltika #4 Original
  • Devil’s Backbone Old Virginia Dark
  • Dixie Blackened Voodoo
  • Saint Pauli Girl Dark
  • San Miguel Dark
  • Session Black Dark Lager
  • Shiner Bock

Style Profile for International Dark Lagers 

Appearance

Deep amber to dark brown in color. Bright clarity with ruby highlights. Foam is beige to light tan in color and not very long lasting.

Aroma

Little to no malt aroma. There might be a light corn character. Medium-low to no roast and caramel malt notes. Hop aroma may be from none to light spicy or floral. A clean fermentation profile is appropriate.

Mouthfeel

Light to medium body. Smooth with a light creaminess. Medium to high carbonation.

Taste

Low to medium malty sweetness with medium-low to no caramel or roasted malt flavors. There may be a hint of coffee, molasses or cocoa. Hop flavor ranges from none to low. Hop flavor is usually floral, spicy, or herbal. Low to medium hop bitterness. May have a very light fruitiness. Crisp finish.

Tips for Brewing your own International Dark Lagers 

Grain

Much like the grain bill for the International Dark Lager, it is pretty basic. Since it is a lager, a good quality Pilsner malt is where you want to start off. However, not all lagers need to start off with Pilsner malt. There was some conflicting information that I discovered while researching the style. Some suggest 2-Row or even 6-Row being used as a base malt.

Vienna malt can be added for a little bit of color and malt interest. For the color, Carafa Special II can be used. Since you do not want to impart much roastiness or chocolate notes to this beer, brewers should not use roasted barley or chocolate malt.

Instead Carafa Special II can give you the color that you want to achieve that SRM level of 14-22 without the roast or chocolate notes.

Hops

The hops really do not shine or standout with this style. Honestly, any hop you have on hand will do. Keeping your IBUs anywhere between 8 and 20 will suit you just fine.

Something such as Hallertauer, Saaz, Tettnang, or Northern Brewer will be the hop choice for this beer. Just make sure you are checking the IBUs with the one hop addition at 60 minutes.

Yeast

A clean lager strain will be the yeast strain you should decide to use for this style of beer. WYeast 2007 Pilsen Lager, WYeast 2206 Bavarian Lager. White Labs 830 German Lager Yeast.

Fermentation:

Ferment at 50°F (10°C) or whatever your yeast manufacturer suggests until your final gravity is reached. It is a good idea to increase the temperature by about ten degrees at the end of fermentation to assist in diacetyl cleanup.

Once the beer completes fermentation and after the diacetyl rest, you may want to cold crash it to 35°F (2°C) for about 4 weeks to improve clarity.

International Dark Lagers By the Numbers

  • Color Range: 14 – 22 SRM
  • Original Gravity: 1.044 – 1.056 OG
  • Final Gravity: 1.008 – 1.012 FG
  • IBU Range: 8 – 20
  • ABV Range: 4.2 – 6.0%

Martin Keen’s International Dark Lager Homebrew Recipe

Grain

48 % 5 lbs Pilsner, German

48% 5 lbs Vienna Malt

4% 8 oz Carafa Special II

Hops

1.00 oz Hallertauer Pellets – Boil 60.0 min

Yeast

1.0 pkg German Lager Yeast (White Labs #830)

Mash at 152°F (66°C) for 60 mins

How To Brew International Dark Lager Homebrew Challenge 2

There’s something a little bit different around here. Today I am brewing an international dark lager and I’m doing it using my brand new brewing system. This will be the first batch I’ve ever brewed with it. This is a modified unibrau from Brau supply. Anyway, that’s the new bling. Let’s talk a bit more about international dark lager.

I’m back in Pittsburgh, North Carolina with Thomas Vincent. Thomas….Hello! Hi. So today we are going for a style that I think confuses a lot of people, which is a dark beer, that is actually a lager. Yes. So, um, talk to me a little bit about the style of this dark lager. Well, to begin with laggering, doesn’t actually impact the color.

So anything can be, it’s a matter of the malt selection, and what typically we see what this is a light chocolatey type of color or roast. Um, a nice little bit of hints of tan or Brown maybe in the foam. This one, I think is examples. Just hair lighter, but it it’s well, within reason, a nice Ruby notes coming out throughout, um, you definitely get the richness of the darker malt, more apparent in this style. Okay. So yeah, this is new belgium, 1554. Is that how you say it?

Yep. 1554. Okay. So let’s, uh, let’s give this one a try,… roasty smell. You definitely get that rustiness on the nose. And there is a little bit of rosiness in there almost more of a chocolatey than the roasty. See, it is kind of on the high end of the roast for the style typically.

Yeah, there is how much they estery-ness to this and the key to this to really get the full flavor and is definitely give it a little time to warm up. Cold out of the fridge, I don’t like this beer as much as we’ve had it sitting in a warmer environment for say 45 minutes. And I think that warm, warm has done this beer a great favor and gotten into a better temperature point.

How To Brew International Dark Lager Homebrew Challenge 4

Now we’ll get into the brewing system in a minute, but let’s just talk about this beer style. The recipe for this one, I am using for my base malts, a mixture of 50% Vienna and Pilsner. So five pounds of each and then, because this is a dark lager that you some dark. So for that I’m using Carafa Special II and half a pound of that. That’s the grist for this beer.

Why the new system? Now previous to this, I have been using a Blichman Breweasy electric system. It’s a great system. Or the thing that really, by the way, that noise is, is this thing turning on and off it’s really loud. And the thing that persuaded me to, to move to a new system is actually, I just want to something smaller because I’m doing this Homebrew Challenge. I’m brewing much more frequently than I was before. And 10 gallon batches are as much too big. It’s too much beer for me to get through once a week.

Now, what I really like about this system is how modular it is. Now, if you go and buy an off the shelf, Brau supply unibrau, it actually comes with its own pump that comes here. It comes with its own, um, cooling system as well. It’s so I didn’t need any of that stuff because I already have a pump.

I have this really nice Blichman Riptide. And the wonderful thing about this system is it’s completely modular. You can add whatever you want to and take away whatever you want it. So I wanted 240 volt power. Fine. I can put that heating element in. I wanted to use my own pump. That’s fine. What it basically comes down to is that this kettle is a kettle with three ports, with three holes in it. And, um, I can plug in whatever I want in those three holes. So happens that I have a temperature sensor in one, I have the 2240 heating element in another, and then I have this outlet here, which is running down to my Blichman pump and recirculating.

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So everything is nice and easy to customize, so, okay. Okay. So let’s talk about the system here. Uh, it’s basically, uh, a sort of a, a brew in the bag system without the bag that has, instead of the bag, it has this metal filter where all the grains are and it’s a recirculating system.

So what’s happening is the wort is coming out of here. It’s going through a pump and then getting research recirculated up out the top. It’s an electric system and it’s controlled by these two controllers here. This one sets the mash temperature. So I’ve set this to be 152, and it will maintain that mash temperature. It also lets me control pump turning on or off. And then this is the 240 volt controller, which is plugged in to the wall here, which gives it the juice. And there is a, um, a heating element in the bottom here. It was just connected through this guy, which is heating up the water.

So I’ve got my dad here to try this beer. This is a dark lager and it’s coming out at 5.6%. So first of all, dad, what do you think about the color of this beer? Well, first of all, for that, I can smell it from here on it smells delicious. It looks pretty good. I think not quite as dark as a, as a Guiness, but from here. Yeah. It’s kind of that sort of red tint to it, but yeah. Alright.

So what about aroma? I’ll just show you it’s really, really strong. I can smell that from way back there. So, I mean, it’s primarily a lager, right? But it doesn’t taste, it tastes more like a dark beer, I think, than it tastes like a lager. I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t say when it doesn’t look like lager, to me, it just tastes like taste like a lighter stout. I suppose I light stout. Light stout? I think that’s fair.

Um, but it’s lovely. Lovely flavor. Yeah, flavor it’s um, I’ve been making a lot of lagers and this is nice to have something that is allowing it to actually tastes somewhat like beer. No, I never would have described that as a lager. That’s a really lovely beer. Really lovely beer. Well, you heard it here.

This is good. So, uh, cheers.

Alright. That’s it. Well, that’s really nice that yeah.

I am the former President of my homebrew club, Plainfield Ale and Lager Enthusiasts (PALE) in the western suburbs of Chicago, IL. I brew on my BIAB system with my incredibly patient and understanding wife, adorable 9 year old daughter, and 12 year old brew dog.