Dark Lagers can trace their lineage back to before Joseph Grolle ‘invented’ Pilsner in 1842, before Grolle all beers tended to be dark and cloudy, and those brewed using the European bottom fermenting techniques would be lagers. The first to gain a reputation for its dark lager beers was Kulmbach in Franconia, Germany where monks have been brewing since 1349.
What has tended to happen in recent years is that brewers seeking to enlarge their ranges beyond a pale pilsner style lager will introduce a dark lager. Examples include Budweiser Dark from the Czech Republic, Tsingtao Dark from China and the two examples I present before you now.
Asahi (the name means ‘Rising Sun’) was launched by the Osaka Brewing Company in 1892, and from day one the beer was well regarded, internationally winning prizes at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, and a gold medal at the Paris World Expo in 1900.
1900 was also the year when the company launched ‘Asahi Draft Beer’ Japan’s first bottled draft beer, which I confess sounds like an oxymoron to me.
Asahi Super Dry was launched in 1987, fast becoming the most popular beer in Japan, and then in 1995 the company launched Asahi Black (Asahi Kuronama), Japan’s first dark lager.
In recent years Osaka Brewing has been building strategic alliances, allowing them to brew ‘foreign’ beers in Japan under licence, while Asahi Super Dry is now brewed under licence by Molson in Canada, Fosters in Australia, Staropramen in the Czech Republic and Shepherd Neame here in the UK.
Asahi Black, however, is still brewed only in Osaka, Japan.
Asahi Black is, as its name suggests, a dark lager. No, make that a VERY dark lager. That means you get the light body and refreshment you would expect from a lager, while the roasted barley gives a richer taste.
You get a rich creamy head when you pour this, slightly caramel in colour, the head lasts a while and leaves a trace of lacing down the glass. Remember, this isn’t a full bodied stout or porter. The nose has just a whiff of coffee.
The flavour is a good balance of malt and hops, not too bitter, not too sweet, and at the same time, not too ‘dark’. Your palate isn’t assaulted by coffee, chocolate or liquorice; it’s very refreshing.
Dark lagers are not to everyone’s taste, but this is a good example of the style. Brewed to 5% ABV this is perhaps deceptive, I suspect that after a few it would creep up on you.
While exploring dark lagers (and I’ve found a few recently) I stumbled across Cusquena Dark. For refrence, I reviewed the original pale Cusquena lager last year. At that time I gave it three and a half stars, although I was tempted to give it four; I found it to be light, mellow and refreshing “ Imagine a summer picnic, one of those endless summers just before you left high school…” it was THAT good, so you can imagine, when I saw Cusquena dark on the shelf I snatched a couple of bottles.
What a disappointment!
Yes it was dark, but that was about it. The dark roast barley succeeded in taking everything that was good about the pale brew and replacing it with a bland malty mess – a bland malty mess brewed to 5.6% ABV (as opposed to the 4.6% ABV of the pale lager), but a mess nonetheless.
The original didn’t have much nose, and this is the same, nothing, nada, nowt… and the flavour was neither refreshing, flavourful nor worth repeating. Of course I did, having tried the first bottle chilled, I tried the second at room temperature, and was equally disappointed.
All in all, given that this beer had been shipped some eight thousand miles, I have to say it wasn’t worth the freighting. I can get plenty of bland tasteless beers brewed more locally!
1 star (and that’s being generous)
What do you think of Dark Lagers? Do you have a favorite?