Is dark lager our most under-rated style?

I was pleased to see Monteith’s Black won a trophy for European Lagers at BrewNZ last week.

It’s good news for two reasons – DB is being upfront that Black is a lager; and dark lagers are something we do well in New Zealand.

In many bars I’ve visited, Monteith’s Black is the best beer on tap. Heck, in some entire towns it is the best beer on tap, but let’s not pick on Timaru right now.

Back in the early 1990s, dark lagers were the first style to break the ongoing blandness of sweet ‘draughts’ and sweet golden lagers. It was a lesson to New Zealand beer drinkers that beer could come in different flavours and styles.

It mightn’t seem a big deal now, but back then the choice was welcome, and look where it’s led us today. Thank you Black Mac.

I believe dark lagers are something New Zealand brewers do well, something we do better than brewers in other countries. Dark lagers have the potential to be developed into a distinctly New Zealand style to reflect our palate, brewing history, and ingredients, but right now they remain underappreciated.

I believe major brewers deliberately under-rate their darks. For example, they don’t even tell drinkers the dark is a lager. Lagers are light and darks are dark and don’t confuse the dumb old beer drinker.

If they were proactive they would be saying, “Look, this is a lager, but it is dark and chocolatey and goes very well with dessert. Pretty neat, eh?” But they can’t see the difference between a distinctive New Zealand style and a just another product category.

I also believe craft brewers under-rate dark lagers, for two different reasons – it is dominated by the majors; and it isn’t fashionable in the countries microbrewers like to emulate, like Britain, Belgium and the United States.

That’s a shame, because dark lagers have their strengths. For example, it is a good match with chocolate or chocolate cakes, a notoriously difficult wine-match. Darks also match well with winter comfort food and some milder game. They are good session beers, too, at about 5% alcohol, and can make a relatively harmless alternative to higher-strength winter warmers.

We could be promoting them as paradoxical dark, chocolatey, malt-driven lagers that are a special part of the New Zealand beer range. I’d like to see craft brewers appreciate the style and push it further to make the most of recent trends in hops and flavours. The majors won’t do anything innovative to fulfill the style’s potential until pushed by braver brewers .

So congratulations DB, let’s see you tell the world you brew a good dark lager.

And if you want to try others, seek out:

Black Mac, the one that started it all

Founders organic Long Black

Samuel Adams Double Bock, which scored silver along with Monteith’s Black

Roosters Dark, always a favourite off the taps at Regional

Any I’m missing?


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©Martin Craig. Reproduction with permission only.

4 Responses to “Is dark lager our most under-rated style?”

  1. Moa Noir. Got one in the fridge actually, will crack it open this weekend to see how it is!


  2. Yes, that’s another good one. Don’t leave it in the fridge too long, and post us a review.




  3. West Coast Black from down in Westport.


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