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Searching for a good dark lager

Dark lager: wonderful idea. When done well, you get the refreshing crisp qualities of lager but with much more going on in the nose and mouth. Simutaneously restorative and stimulating.

But when it’s done badly, it’s either indistinguishable from the pale stuff if you close your eyes, or worse, a sweeter version thereof. We had many disappointing dark lagers in Germany. Not so much in Franconia, where they’re not afraid of a bit of character in their brews, but certainly outside.

We decided to escape from the “eurowhiff” and have a tasting session at home of some dark lagers we’d picked up at Utobeer. And by dark lager here, we’re not talking about a strictly defined style, but rather anything that’s a lager and is dark.

Bohemia Regent Dark4.4%

One of the more commonly available Czech dark lagers (i.e. I’ve seen it in at least two places…)

This reminded me of a Franconian beer – refreshing, incredibly gulpable, but with interesting flavours to analyse. It has a good long aroma of treacle, which makes you think the beer’s going to be overpoweringly sweet, but it’s not. You get a soft burnt caramel flavour, with the hops adding subtle spiciness, although not much bitterness. It leaves a light roasted malt flavour on the tongue.

The Bohemia Regent site is here.

Hirter Morchl, 5%

This is from Austria, and that’s about all we’ve been able to work out from their website. It’s a similar dark red colour to the Regent, with a lovely toasty aroma with hints of smoke. It’s not particularly fizzy, giving it a richer, fuller body. It’s slightly on the sweet side, and gets sweeter as it warms up, becoming rather cola-like. Can’t really taste much hops.

Budvar dark, 4.7%
Well, it looks great, with a towering frothy head. Mildly smoky. It doesn’t have the same pronounced malty flavour as the others we tried today, but it’s got interesting sour notes, like a good stout, and very discernible, almost raw, hops.

We’d happily drink all of these, but we didn’t think any of these were as good as the Bernard dark beer we had in York last month. That was lovely stuff, with a full body and coffee bitterness, and yet incredibly drinkable. An exotic mild…?

What are your dark lager recommendations?

23 replies on “Searching for a good dark lager”

Bernard Dark is probably the best example of a Czech Dark currently exported. In London you can get it in bottles in Bloomsbury Lanes and the Czech & Slovak Club. It is available in 30L kegs if you know anywhere that might be interested…

We were looking for Herold, but had no joy. Delighted to hear you can get Bernard in the Bloomsbury bowling lanes, we almost went the other week.

Is Bloomsbury the best “venue” in London that also has decent beer?

Bloomsbury Lanes is a fantastic, fantastic, bloody brilliant place. I first went there for an office night out in my last life and was astonished to find they had unpasteurised Bernard and Meantime Pale Ale on tap, along with a good bottled selection (including Bernard Dark). Prices are surprisingly restrained, too.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve gone just to use the bar, although strictly speaking of course its a bowling alley. They also have a small private cinema and private karaoke rooms…

I like Regent’s a lot, it’s a great beer. Two other interesting dark lagers maybe Kloster Andechs Export, available at and my favourite till now, the Slovenian Laško Dark

Unfortunately I haven’t found who is selling it neither in London nor in the rest of Britain but it’s a highly recommended beer coming from a country more known by its wines and mountains rather than by its beer.

Haya Salud amigos

i don’t think you can get it in England, but Rohozec 13% dark is worth looking for, a bit more caramel than the rest, but pretty nice flavours.
BTW, also love Bernard, Herold and Regent Dark…. Lovely stuff.

PF — I’ve never seen Rohozec in the UK. There seem to be fewer Czech beers around full stop, in fact. I’m not sure if I’m just imagining that, or if there’s a problem with supply. Or, more likely, demand…

Chela — although it is possible to get pale lagers from almost every country in Europe in the shops in East London, the dark beers never seem to get this far. I’ll keep an eye out for Lasko, though.

Stonch — I got dragged to Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes for a work do, too, and was blown away by the beer selection. I hadn’t expected any beer at all, to be honest, let alone Meantime, Harviestoun and various American beers. And the karaoke is good if you like that kind of thing — small rooms, Japanese style, so a bit less embarrassing than bellowing in the pub!

I haven’t been impressed with too many dark lagers I’ve tried in the past either, but a few were of note. Very much like the actual Baltic Porters, I’m still searching for more that are in the “superb” category. The main ones I’ve seen here in the States are Alhambra from Spain and Krusovice Cerne from the Czech Republic, and both were less than stellar.

Some microbreweries here actually do the dark lager a service. At the very least, they’re slightly more palatable. A European one I truly liked was Monschof Schwarzbier by Kulmbacher.

I had some Rohozec dark lager earlier this week in Prague. Can’t say I was particularly impressed. The Cerny Lezak from Pivovarsky Dvur in Lipan, on the other hand, was delicious. As was the 13º Tmave at Zlata Labut in Zvikov.

Most of the of the dark lagers from larger Czech breweries I tried were sweetish and pretty dull. What did pleasantly surprise me was the new 18º dark lager from Pilsner Urquell, a sort of Doppelbock. Really not bad at all.

The Franconian dark lagers I drank over the last week were generally much better. More characterful, more varied, hoppier (mostly). At the Zeitgeist festival I would look out for Hofmann Export – a very unusual beer – and Will. Another great beer.

Budvar Dark is a little bland in comparison to the best of the style. On the other hand, it’s available in lots of places here and the others aren’t!

And, being more available, Budvar Dark seems often to be fresher. We weren’t especially impressed when we tried it a couple of years back but trying it back to back with a few others last night, we thought it held its own.

On draught, in Ceske Budjejovice Budvar Dark was just a bit dull. Better than the pale, though, which had almost nothing to it except some hop bitterness. It was better unfiltered straight out of the lagering tanks, but still niot very exciting.

Strangely, the Regent brewery tap doesn’t even sell the dark lager.

Another vote for Herold, Bernard and Regent, in order of preference. The dark 13° Freudovo Pivo and the Troobacz from Štramberk are the two best Czech brewpub darks in my opinion, though I also like Lipan. In Prague, Richter has made a lovely dark 13°.

As for Pilsner Urquell’s 18° Master dark, that brings up the interesting tradition of Czech “porters” (viz., the 19° Pardubický Porter, the 18° dark from Kout na Šumav?, Primátor’s 24° Double, etc.). If only etymologically and in terms of alcoholic wallop, these are probably related to Baltic porters, though informed by Schwartzbier and other traditions from this region. Of course, Ron knows far more about this than I do.

A side note: the terms “dark” (tmavý) and “black” (?erný) are used interchangeably in the Czech lands.

When I go to Germany, I often buy a can of Köstritzer Schwarzbier for the train. Goethe probably wouldn’t recognize its current incarnation, but the last time I tried it I thought it was pretty good.

Hi, out of my mind I can really recommend the glorious juggernaut that is Andechser Doppelbock Dunkel. Then I remember trying Warsteiner Dark a couple of years ago and quite liking it, it´s a nice, easy drinking dunkel.

I almost forgot about Ayinger´s Celebrator. Another mighty and tasty doppelbock.


I’ve never had Herold Black on draught. Evan, is it available anywhere in Prague? I can only think of one place that had Herold light when I lived there (the Globe Bookstore), although to be fair I didn’t get around as much as I should have.

Not wanting to argue with Ron (my beer knowledge is light years away from his) I just want to add something in defense of Czech dark lagers.
With dark beers on tap, many times the problem is that if you don’t get a relatively new barrel, chances are that the beer is going to be dull, as if the flavours have been turned off. It is because people don’t order them enough and they stay too long in the barrels. Happened to me several times.
As for craft dark beers, yes, Lipan is lovely. I also remember when I was last year in Zvikov, I really liked their dark 13° a lot. Another one I had last year that I loved was Joe’s Garage, I think it was also a 13°. Richter’s Tmavý Ležák 14° is probably my favourite in U Bulovky. Oh! And I was almost forgetting Chý?e’s Tmavý Ležák 14° that is simply lovely, as pretty much everything they brew there.

I think Div?í Skok in Šárka valley taps Herold Tmavé. Im planning to go check it out once the weather gets a bit friendlier to go there.
And as for Globe, never the best place for a pint, I don’t think you were missing much….

As other people have said, the Herold dark that you can pick up from Tescos is a great beer, but I think that my favourite dark beer is Tomislav, from Croatia.

If anybody, please, knows where I can get hold of this from in the UK then get in touch with me 😉

Just as an aside to this thread for those of you in ‘the big smoke’ – Herold’s Black Lager was on in cask in Wetherspoons pubs several moons ago & it was so tasty that it inspired the ZeroDegrees Black Lager (I think it’s still brewed in Blackheath, Bristol, Reading & as of tomorrow, Cardiff!).

Do Meantime brew a Munich or Schwarz?

Gary – thanks for dropping by. Never seen or heard of that one, but will certainly look out for it!

Mike – the zerodegrees sounds good! thanks for drawing it to our attention.

Meantime do a seasonal Munich from time to time. There’s also their “Franconian dark lager” in Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference range, which I was never that impressed by, sadly.

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