Dark beer adds variety

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Dark beers and black beers have a large fan base. These specialties are especially popular in eastern and southern Germany.

While nearly all beers were originally dark before light beers conquered the world, black and dark beers are now regional specialties. Even though they don’t count as award-winning types of beer and they’ve conquered less than 2% of the overall beer market: The specialty character of black and dark beers continues to fuel their appeal and they add variety to any beverage list. As exceptional, out-of-the-ordinary indulgences, black and dark beers, which are often only seasonally available, can provide extra inspiration in the retail and hospitality sectors.

Individualization of the beer market

“We find dark and black beers round out our product ranges, thereby enabling us to accommodate the trend toward increasing individualization of the beer market,” says Birte Kleppien, spokesperson for the Radeberger Group. “This is why we also focus our marketing activities on each umbrella brand,” Kleppien adds.

The latest example is the new wood-look Altenmünster branded crate, a nod to the beer’s role model from the past. The brewery is now using the crate for its Altenmünster Winterbier (winter brew) for the first time. The Radeberger Group markets Schöfferhofer Dunkles Hefeweizen (dark wheat beer) throughout the year and throughout the country.

Malt aromas and roasting flavors make dark beer particularly alluring. Today, dark beers are made almost exclusively from light base malts and augmented by dark roasted color malts like caramel or roasted malts.

„Dunkel- und Schwarzbiere verstehen wir als Sortimentsabrundung, um dem Trend zu einer immer stärkeren Individualisierung des Biermarktes entgegenzukommen“, sagt Birte Kleppien, Sprecherin der Radeberger Gruppe.
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And, of course, there are many long-established, regionally rooted specialties as well: In the region of Franconia, Tucher Traditionsbrauerei brews Tucher Urfränkisch Dunkel (Original Franconian Dark), and Allgäuer Brauhaus markets Allgäuer Büble Urbayrisch Dunkel (Original Bavarian Dark) in traditional flip-top bottles. The Radeberger Group’s range also includes Ur-Krostitzer Schwarze and Freiberger Schwarzbier from Saxony and Märkischer Landmann from Berlin as well as the keg beer specialty Rostocker Dunkel from the far north of Germany.

The specialty beer trend is continuing unabated, and the topic of regional origin continues dominate. Even regions that have not previously been known for having a dark beer tradition are discovering the appeal of dark beers through a new, craft-brewer-initiated beer culture, and consumers are asking for more exceptional beers.

Nevertheless, the dark and black beer market has been declining over the last few years: Compared with the previous year, sales throughout the segment have continued to fall (source: Nielsen, LEH+GAM). But market research also shows there is above-average demand for dark and black beers in eastern and southern Germany. Here, the segment in each state accounts for the highest percentage of the overall market.

Number 1 for 25 years now

The top black beer by far is Köstritzer Schwarzbier — and it has dominated for more than 25 years. Its market share is currently just under 30% (source: Nielsen, LEH+GAM). The brand has grown steadily within the segment and is equally popular in both the east and west of Germany. People invariably associate black beer with Köstritzer.

This beer continues to be exported worldwide, including to China, the US and Italy as well as to Japan and Malaysia. “We believe the market potential hasn’t been fully exploited yet and growth opportunities are reappearing,” says Stefan Didt, CEO of Köstritzer Schwarzbierbrauerei. Given the significantly increasing diversity of product choices, developing new, differentiated beers will become more and more essential.

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“We observe consumer preferences closely and only launched both our new specialties, black-beer-based ‘Köstritzer Kirsche’ and Kellerbier-based Köstritzer Kellerbier Limette, on the market at the beginning of the year. We want to appeal to new target audiences with these new products and expand the specialty market,” Didt explains.

Part and parcel of the product range

According to company spokesperson Natalia Balacka, black beer is necessarily part and parcel of the product range for a specialty brand like Kulmbacher Brauerei’s Mönchshof, a very dark, mild black beer. “Our black beer is not filtered. Yet thanks to the particular brewing method we use, it has a clear color,” says Balacka. “Although the black beer segment in Germany is declining, more and more fans have been turning to our black beer in traditional flip-top bottles over the last few years,” she says. Yet even in Kulmbach nobody is seeing any signs of a general renaissance for the dark and black beer segment right now. The word is that other types of beer are now tending to benefit from the consumer trend toward authentic regional specialty beers.

Black beer is also popular in the far north: Störtebeker Braumanufaktur has been reporting double-digit growth of its dark beer brands “Schwarz-Bier” and “Hanse-Porter” over the last few years. By its own account, the brewery views these dark beers as an opportunity to grow throughout Germany and outside of its core market.

Further dark beer growth expected

According to information provided by the brewery, Schlossbrauerei Kaltenberg’s König Ludwig Dunkel is the number 1 dark beer. “It continues to be brewed at Schloss Kaltenberg in copper brew kettles using traditional brewing method and is now Germany’s market leader in its segment. And — something that we are particularly proud of — it has been honored as Germany’s number 1 dark beer,” Oliver Lentz, CEO of Schlossbrauerei Kaltenberg, explains. “We are very satisfied with how König Ludwig Dunkel has performed over the years. It has managed to gain further market share in 2019. This is why we are convinced we will also be able to persuade even more consumers of the merits of our royal Bavarian product in the future,” Lentz states.

In the first half of 2019, consumers in Germany purchased a total of around 2.9 billion liters of beer and beer-based mixed drinks — that is, well over 1% less compared with the previous year. Although pilsner continues to be the big seller, sales of pilsner did drop by 3% compared with 2018.

If you’d like to experience for yourself the particular character only dark beer specialties can offer, visit the popular event place2beer as part of your visit to drinktec 2021. Throughout the expansive exhibition space, different beers from all parts of the world, including numerous dark beers, can be sampled free of charge every day of the trade fair. Drinktec will be held from September 13–17, 2021, on the trade fair grounds in Munich.

Dirk Omlor

Dirk Omlor

Dirk Omlor was an editor at renowned beverage publishers for around two decades. In July 2018, the graduate engineer for brewing founded a text and consulting office with the central project getraenke-news.de together with his long-time colleague Barbara Rademacher.