Amber to Brown / 14 – 28 SRM
Moderate / 18 – 28 IBU
Sweetness Low to medium
Balance Toward Malty
If you include its historical and specialty styles category, the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program), the organization most often cited regarding beer style definitions, recognizes over 100 different beer styles. There are a lot of reasons beyond judging homebrew to recognize different beer styles, including differences in cultural traditions, ingredients, processes, and how they’re consumed. Perhaps most importantly, though, it’s the easiest way for brewers and bars to communicate what they’re selling you. When you order a ribeye at a steakhouse, you’ve obviously got some expectations about what’s coming off the grill…if a flank steak comes out on your plate, you’d probably be a little pissed (understandably). In the same way, when you order a Pale Ale, there must be a way of defining what expectations that should carry, even if there are some pretty significant variations between brewers and regions.
When you order a Munich Dunkel, you’re ordering one of the oldest styles of beer that’s been continually brewed since it was recognized. Before the reinheitsgebot was enacted in 1516, and for at least 100 years after it, braunbier, which we now call dunkel, was the most common type of beer in Bavaria. It was so clearly defined from other beers that when the Bavarian royals built two new breweries around the turn of the seventeenth century, the two different locations were assigned different styles—the first brewing braunbier, and the second brewing weißbier (white beer brewed with wheat). Style recognition wasn’t the primary motivation for the two different breweries, they needed the space to make enough beer for the court (you can read more about that in our post on Helles Bock). That there was a recognized distinction, however, tells us that the Bavarians had a good sense for what we now call “styles.”
Dunkel (which simply translates as “dark”) is itself a style that has changed dramatically since those early beers, however. Though malting had at that point been well-understood for over 5000 years, there was a monumental difference between the process then as compared with now: smoke. You can read more about the history of malt in our post on Rauchbier, but for now it’s enough to know that in 1500s brewing, the vast majority of malt would have had smoky qualities because of the drying process (the malt that wasn’t smoky was air dried…a process that wasn’t efficient and was therefore small scale and quite rare). What that meant for braunbier, in other words, is that it would always have been smoky. When unsmoked malt became available, it was adopted by nearly every brewer, and drinkers were left with more flavor from the grain and less from the malting process.
One of my favorite beer memories, and one of the best beers I’ve ever had, was a well-made dunkel from a brewpub called Giesinger bräustüberl on Munich’s southeast side. This beer had an incredible richness and depth of flavor while remaining light on the palate and easy to drink. Though it’s been overtaken in popularity by its brighter cousin helles, it’s offered year round by the liter in Munich’s beer gardens.
At Black Flannel, we’ve worked tirelessly on our own method for making a rich, full-flavored dark lager that’s still easy to drink a lot of at once (we even ran it through what our brewers refer to as the “volume” test just to be sure). What you’ll get from a pint of our dunkel is rich bread toast and toasted walnuts against a backdrop of light cocoa. Who wouldn’t want a liter of that?
Aroma – Rich maltiness. Bread toast, nuts, toffee, light cocoa.
Appearance – Deep copper to dark brown.
Flavor – Balanced toward malt. Never sweet or cloying.
Mouthfeel – Medium body. Soft, easy-drinking finish.
Vitals – 4.5 – 5.9% ABV, 18 – 28 IBU
Serve fresh in maß at 38º
Characterized by depth, richness and complexity typical of darker Munich malts with the accompanying Maillard products. Deeply bready-toasty, often with chocolate-like flavors in the freshest examples, but never harsh, roasty, or astringent; a decidedly malt-balanced beer, yet still easily drinkable.
Rich, elegant, deep malt sweetness, typically like bread crusts (often toasted bread crusts). Hints of chocolate, nuts, caramel, and/or toffee are also acceptable, with fresh traditional versions often showing higher levels of chocolate. Clean fermentation profile. A slight spicy, floral, or herbal hop aroma is acceptable.
Deep copper to dark brown, often with a red or garnet tint. Creamy, light to medium tan head. Usually clear, although murky unfiltered versions exist.
Dominated by the soft, rich, and complex flavor of darker Munich malts, usually with overtones reminiscent of toasted bread crusts, but without a burnt-harsh-grainy toastiness. The palate can be moderately malty, although it should not be overwhelming or cloyingly sweet. Mild caramel, toast or nuttiness may be present. Very fresh examples often have a pleasant malty-chocolate character that isn’t roasty or sweet. Burnt or bitter flavors from roasted malts are inappropriate, as are pronounced caramel flavors from crystal malt. Hop bitterness is moderately low but perceptible, with the balance tipped firmly towards maltiness. Hop flavor is low to none; if noted, should reflect floral, spicy, or herbal German type varieties. Aftertaste remains malty, although the hop bitterness may become more apparent in the medium-dry finish. Clean fermentation profile and lager character.
Medium to medium-full body, providing a soft and dextrinous mouthfeel without being heavy or cloying. Moderate carbonation. The use of continental Munich-type malts should provide a richness, not a harsh or biting astringency.
Unfiltered versions from Germany can taste like liquid bread, with a yeasty, earthy richness not found in exported filtered examples.
The classic brown lager style of Munich which developed as a darker, more malt-accented beer than other regional lagers. While originating in Munich, the style became popular throughout Bavaria (especially Franconia). Franconian versions are often darker and more bitter.
Grist is traditionally made up of German Munich malt (up to 100% in some cases) with the remainder German Pilsner malt. Small amounts of crystal malt can add dextrins and color but should not introduce excessive residual sweetness. Slight additions of roasted malts (such as Carafa or chocolate) may be used to improve color but should not add strong flavors. Traditional German hop varieties and German lager yeast strains should be used. Often decoction mashed (up to a triple decoction) to enhance the malt flavors and create the depth of color.
Not as intense in maltiness as a bock (and thus more drinkable in quantity). Lacking the more roasted flavors (and often hop bitterness) of a schwarzbier. Richer, more malt-centric, and less hoppy than a Czech Dark Lager.
Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel, Chuckanut Dunkel Lager, Ettaler Kloster Dunkel, HackerPschorr Alt Munich Dark, Weltenburger Kloster BarockDunkel
Original Gravity (°Plato) 1.048-1.056 (11.9-13.8 °Plato)
Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (°Plato) 1.014-1.018 (3.6-4.6 °Plato)
Alcohol by Weight (Volume) 3.8%-4.2% (4.8%-5.3%)
Bitterness (IBU) 16-25
Color SRM (EBC) 15-17 (30-34 EBC)
Less malty and alcoholic than a Dunkles Bock. Less bitterness and with more malt richness than a Czech Dark Lager.
Decoction brewing is a hallmark of traditional dunkel. Instead of mixing hot water with malt and then letting it rest at a single temperature, brewers begin the mash at lower temperatures, then pull a portion of the mash and boil it (see this post on why we decoct for more info on this). The boiled portion is then added back to the main mash, and the whole process is repeated twice before the wort is drained into the kettle and boiled with hops. The finished wort is chilled and fermented cool with a lager yeast, then held at lagering temperature (usually around 32º F) for several weeks to clarify, soften, and round the flavors together.
AT THE BREWPUB:
Pretzel with house pub mustard.
Smash Burger with Thrice Cooked Chips.
Sausages, mustard, and kraut
FROM BF DISTILLING CO: Vermont Common Whiskey
NEW: Mary Lambert, Grief Creature
OLD: Richard Strauss, Alpensymphonie
Pour Dunkel over large ice into a mixing glass. Add whiskey and bitters and stir 40 times. Pour into old fashioned glass, then twist, rim the glass, and garnish with orange peel.