Sainsbury's is responding to the demand for dark lagers by adding a new variant to its Taste the Difference beer range.

The 5% abv Franconian Dark Lager, produced by the Greenwich-based Meantime Brewing Company, will go into stores at the beginning of next month and will join others in the Taste the Difference range, which includes a Bavarian wheat beer, a Cologne-style lager, a Vienna-style lager and an Oktoberfest Munich-style beer. The latter is to be relaunched from its 660ml bottle into 330ml bottles, to be sold in the four-pack format that has proved popular for the other variants.

During the first half of 2006, a selection of dark lagers has arrived from different corners of the globe, including Budvar Dark from the Czech Republic and the Peruvian Cusqueña Malta. Meantime MD Alistair Hook confirmed that the more flavourful products in the speciality beer sector were gaining in popularity.

"Dark beer, which is an old style of beer, offers more malt characteristics, giving a more caramel taste," he said. "We produced an amber-coloured beer in the Viennese style, and the next step was a darker version, which is matured for six weeks rather than 10 days. It isn't as cloying in its taste as some cask-conditioned ales can be."

Last year the brewer launched a range of Meantime branded beers - a Grand Cru wheat, a London porter, an India pale ale, a coffee and a chocolate beer, which use dark malts and real chocolate.