Literally, a German word that translates to black lager, schwarzbier is reminiscent of a German-style dunkel but drier, darker, roastier, and lighter.

Schwarzbier originated in the regions of Saxony and Thuringia in Germany during the Roman Empire. At the time, farmers often cultivated grains such as barley, wheat, oats, and rye, which were perfect for beer. While wine was the drink of choice for Romans, because Saxony and Thuringia were located pretty far north and east from Roman influence, people were allowed to brew pretty much whatever they wanted.

“Beer was seen as a lower beverage, the drink of the people,” Adam Lukey, head brewer at Eventide Brewing in Atlanta, GA, told us. “Kings drank wine, but the people drank beer because it was liquid bread, whereas Ambrosia was the drink of the gods.” Because Thuringia and Saxony were outside the influence of Romans, brewers were free to do whatever they wanted to do. “That gave birth to the schwarzbier,” says Lukey, who brews a schwarzbier called Midnight Hour.

But that’s not to say that brewing schwarzbier didn’t follow strict purity rules. In 1516, the Reinheitsgebot stated that beer in the Bavaria region of Germany could only contain four ingredients: water, hops, malt, and yeast. Technically, Saxony and Thuringia weren’t in Bavaria, so they developed their own provincial purity laws called Vorläufiges Biergesetz.

“That said, schwarzbier had to be 100 percent malted barley with no adjunct grains,” says Lukey.

These medieval beers used kilned malts often categorized as schwarz (black), braun (brown), or rot (red).

Hence, schwarzbiers are literally considered black lagers; the dark grain gave this beer style its color and its roasty, dry qualities.

Traditionally, in Germany, Köstritzer makes the most famous schwarzbier. Located in Bad Köstrizt, the brewery started making schwarzbier in 1543, leveraging the town’s mineral-rich water. Considered a spa town, people would flock to Bad Köstritz to “come to the spa and drink schwarzbier to make you strong and healthy,” says Lukey.

Although schwarzbier is a style with a rich history in Germany, you’ll find breweries worldwide making highly rated versions today.

From a schwarzbier from a brewery in Vermont better known for a little beer called Heady Topper to one from a lager legend in the South, here is Untappd’s list of the all-time top-rated schwarzbiers.

Untappd’s All-Time Top-Rated Schwarzbiers

*Editor’s Note: These are not Hop Culture’s personal ratings. This list is based on Untappd’s ratings on the All-Time Top-Rated Schwarzbiers. The list shows the top beers based on Untappd’s weighted average formula, which effectively rates all beers against each other. A beer must have 150 ratings or more to qualify for this list. For more information on our rating system, please view the Untappd ratings explainer.

For that reason, we understand that you might be confused seeing a Brazilian brewery listed as number one here. But again, we’re not creating this list; we’re simply reporting on Untappd’s list based on statistics from check-ins from people all around the world.

Ullr Schwarz – FrohenFeld Craft Brewery

Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil

frohenfeld craft brewery ullr schwarz schwarzbier
Photography courtesy of Frohenfeld Craft Brewery

We’ll fully admit that we were probably as shocked as you are to see a Brazilian brewery’s schwarzbier listed as number one on this list. But hey, that’s the beauty of reading through rankings like Untappd’s All-Time Top-Rated lists—you’ll always find a few surprises.

A gold winner at the 2022 Brazil Beer Cup and 2022 and 2023 Brazilian Beer Competition, Ullr Schwarz has those classic sweetness and roast aromas of coffee, cocoa, and dark chocolate, followed by a lingering bitterness.

According to the beer’s Untappd description (translated from Portuguese), Ullr Schwarz may seem like an ale, but it drinks like a lager.

Learn More

Dark – The Alchemist

Stowe, VT

the alchemist dark schwarzbier
Photography courtesy of Shane Rumrill | The Alchemist

From the masters of murky comes a beer on the complete opposite of the spectrum. The Alchemist actually says Dark falls somewhere between a dunkel and schwarzbier. But for the most part, you can expect all the hallmarks of an excellent German-style dark lager—milk chocolatey, smooth, a touch of roast, and crisp finish.

Learn More

Black Lager – Goldfinger Brewing Company

Downers Grove, IL

“Don’t let the dark color fool you,” writes Goldfinger in the beer’s Untappd description. “Our traditional German-style Schwarzbier is deceivingly light, with a subtle malt and roast presence.” Probably thanks to a single decoction mash, which enriches those complex malt flavors. You’ll find a slight hop bitterness in this one, but a velvety body washes everything away, making this 4.6% ABV schwarzbier especially dangerous to drink. A beer you can enjoy all year long, Black Lager hits exceptionally well in the winter when its roasty chocolate notes pair perfectly with a snowy winter.

Learn More

Rennsteig – Schilling Beer Co.

Littleton, NH

schilling beer co rennsteig schwarzbier
Photography courtesy of Zac Porter | Schilling Beer Co.

Are we surprised to see Schilling once again topping a lager-loving Untappd All-Time Top-Rated list? Nope!

Named after a 700-year-old hiking trail in Germany, Rennsteig is probably a beer you could take on a hike. Super crushable, this German dark lager brings mountains of malt depth akin to toasted dark rye crust, dark chocolate, and fresh coffee beans. But, as with other schwarzbiers on this list, Rennsteig finishes crisp, getting you immediately ready for that next sip—again and again and again.

Learn More

Bones Shirt – Suarez Family Brewery

Livingston, NY

suarez family brewery bones shirt schwarzbier
Photography courtesy of Suarez Family Brewery

For Suarez Family’s inspired take on a traditional German-style black lager, Bones Shirt hits all those hallmarks—crisp, smooth—but with a slight spin—not roasty. “This beer eschews roasty character in favor of a clean hop and delicate malt flavor,” writes the brewery in the beer’s Untappd description.

Learn More

Kaffee Bergsteiger – Tree House Brewing Company

Charlton, MA

Tree House does something a little nutty with its highly rated schwarzbier, conditioning Kaffee Bergsteiger on its house-roasted Autumn blend of coffee called Walden.

As a result, you can expect this less traditional take on a German-style black lager to pack a bit more punch—a more slightly sweet caramel frappuccino than an earthy, dry espresso shot, for example.

Learn More

Schwarz Mönch – Schwarz Mönch

Gimmelwald, Bern/Berne, Switzerland

schwarz mönch schwarzbier
Photography courtesy of Schwarz Mönch

Named after a famous Swiss mountain, Schwarz Mönch has a pretty interesting history. Started by David Waterhouse, a former Londoner, the brewery lies in an old, abandoned mountain hotel in Switzerland that’s only reachable by cable car.

Thinking this would be the perfect setting for a German-style dark lager, Waterhouse set out to create the ideal schwarzbier. After releasing in the summer of 2017, Schwarz Mönch sold out all of its first 1,000 litres almost immediately.

Over the last seven years, this black lager has racked up awards, including silver at the 2019 London Beer Competition, a double gold at the 2019 and 2022 European Beer Challenge, and actually ranking number on Untappd’s All-Time Top-Rated list from 2018 to 2020.

Reportedly, Sierra Nevada Co-Founder Ken Grossman has even highly applauded this beer.

Learn More

Oblivion Black Lager – Brewery Silvaticus

Amesbury, MA

brewery silvaticus oblivion black lager schwarzbier
Photography courtesy of Brewery Silvaticus

An excellent lager-focused brewery in Massachusetts, Brewery Silvaticus crushes its schwarzbier. Describing Oblivion Dark Lager as “dark, roasty, and luscious,” Brewery Silvaticus offers a schwarzbier that’s equal parts flavor and texture—chocolate and coffee; clean and smooth.

Learn More

Bourbon Sustenance – Short’s Brewing Company

Elk Rapids, MI

short's brewing bourbon sustenance schwarzbier
Label courtesy of Short’s Brewing

The only barrel-aged schwarzbier on this list, Bourbon Sustenance from Short’s Brewing spends ten months aging in bourbon barrels.

The time in barrels gives this dark lager a fourth dimension, focused on vanilla, charred oak, and buttery nuts from the barrels. Complemented by a rich malt profile, Bourbon Sustenance drinks lighter than its 8.5% ABV. So drinkers, beware! While this certainly isn’t a traditional 4% ABV-range schwarzbier, it gives us something different to drink about.

Learn More

Shell – Halfway Crooks Beer

Atlanta, GA

halfway crooks shell schwarzbier
Photography courtesy of Blake Tyers | Halfway Crooks

Featuring all German malted and roasted barley, Shell spends six weeks lagering for a traditional German-style schwarzbier with “notes of bittersweet chocolate and the most subtle roast,” writes Halfway Crooks in the beer’s Untappd description. “It’s like the bash shell, yeah?”

Learn More

Looking for more?