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In the ancient times of beer brewing, each locality had its own variety of beer. Differences in water quality; availability of flavorings, including hops; and the varieties of grain all influenced the beer that each area produced. As lagering became more prevalent, the varieties became more regional, more there were still distinct differences.
Dunkel, a German word meaning "dark" was the name for a family of German lagers characterized by their dark brown color. Helles is the German word indicating a lighter color. Both the Helles and Dunkel varieties are attributed to the Munich region and are typically referred to as Munich Helles and Munich Dunkel. A subcategory of the dunkel is the Schwarzbier, literally "black beer". This lager is heavier and less sweet than a dunkel. A style that has many descendants among Mexican beers (as well as Yuengling and Sam Adams) is the Vienna Lager. Vienna style lagers tend to be red to amber in hue and have a sweet, malty character. A rauchbier is simply a smoked lager. American brewers brew versions of all of these lagers.
In general, these lagers can be described as crisp, and are often clear without the haziness you often get in an ale. There are nuanced differences in taste among these different lagers, but are all recognizable as part of the same beer family.
Coming up: Pilsener, Bock, Märzen (Octoberfest)