An often neglected and overlooked style, Dunkelweizen delivers a perfect balance of malt and hops and will leave you thinking, “this is beer!” It may be hard to find on tap but Dunkelweizen is very easy to brew…and drink!
Here’s how to brew a great Dunkelweizen. For the base grist, use Munich malt and wheat malt in a 50-50 ratio. Add in a little dark crystal malt and a touch of a dark chocolate malt. Ferment with a Hefeweizen yeast strain and carbonate to at least 2.5 volumes CO2.
Close your eyes and picture a Hefeweizen. Now go from that light yellow to a nice copper to darkish brown hue. Pair those classic spicy and fruity Hefe yeast notes with bread and toast and you’ve got… Dunkelweizen.
When translated into English, Dunkelweizen comes out as “dark wheat”. It’s no surprise then that at least half the base malt is wheat.
Typically, you’ll find the ABV in the 4.3-5.6% range but there are always bigger examples out there. 15-ish IBUs is pretty standard too.
Dunkel Weizen is a bit beguiling. Because of its darker color, the expectation is often that this is a big or strong beer. While dark, Dunkelweizen is still a very quaffable brew.
When it comes to appearances, a thick rocky head should be accompanied by yeast haze. Dunkelweizen should not be clear.
What makes a good Dunkelweizen?
The best Dunkelweizens are just what you’d picture yourself drinking at a fall BBQ. The amount of yeast character should be coupled nicely with the bready malt notes. Those classic clove and banana characters from Hefeweizen yeast should be present but should not dominate your palate.
There is no understating how important freshness is in a Dunkelweizen. This study has shown that there are significant drops in the amount of esters in ales that have been aged for 6 months at warm temperatures. As a style that is depending heavily on those fresh yeast characteristics, look for a beer brewed in the last 3 months and one that has been stored properly.
The best examples have a thick creamy head that lingers and laces your glass. Once drinking, your palate will be greeted by: light sweetness, banana, clove, rich malt, and a dry-ish finish.
How to brew Dunkelweizen
Let’s talk about…malt. The grain bill for a great Dunkelweizen can be very simple. For the base malt use a 50/50 ratio of Munich and wheat malt. After that, add around 6 ounces of a darker crystal malt like Dingemans Special B. Top it off with 2 ounces of Carafa Special II or something like it and you’re all set.
Now we’ll talk about the why behind each of those malts. We use them because that’s what the Germans do. Done.
Kidding aside, we want to find a rich melanoidin-malt flavor in the beer so we use Munich malt. We want a great head on the beer and a nice clean-ish bready malt expression, so we use wheat malt. To get a touch of caramel and to tempt us to think of sweetness, we use some Crystal malt. And more to impart some color than to add roast character, we add a dark chocolate malt.
Remember, when selecting your roast malt, go huskless or go home. No roasted flavors here, thank you very much. Also consider cold steeping your chocolate malt and adding it towards the end of the boil.
Another possible option is to use Sinamar®. A little goes a long way and will give you color but not impart any roasty flavors.
Finally, It wouldn’t hurt to substitute out some Munich malt for a nice Pilsner malt. But traditionally the base is all Munich and Wheat. You could also add another small amount of a lighter (40 lovibond) crystal malt if you’re looking for a bit more caramel complexity.
It is not unreasonable to consider a traditional decoction mash when brewing a Dunkelweizen. That said, sticking with a single infusion mash and targeting 152.6 F (67 C) for 60 minutes will give you outstanding results. If brewing a lighter version, you may want to increase the mash temp to 156.2 F (69 C) to retain more body.
Because there’s a lot of wheat in this beer, depending on your brewing setup, adding some rice hulls to the mash is a good idea. This will help offset the huskless wheat and prevent your mash from getting stuck when you run off.
Realistically, anything that adds a bit of bitterness without getting in the way could work here. But why not go the extra step and use a nice traditional noble hop like Hallertau. A one ounce addition at 60 minutes is a perfect starting place.
Using one hop and a single addition may prove to be challenging for us North Americans but remember…this is a German style. Suppress the need for more and different hops here and use them in your next IPA. Stay strong and use one hop addition.
Yeast and Fermentation
There seems to be two schools of thought on the amount of banana character you should be trying to get during fermentation. If you read the section above on “What Makes a Good Dunkelweizen”, you know where I stand on this issue.
For a more subdued ester profile. Ferment at 62.6 – 64.4 F (17 – 18 C). It’s a good idea to do a temperature rise of a few degrees after 4 days of fermentation. This method let’s the yeast play a more supportive role while still imparting some clove and banana. But it’s not for those looking for a banana bomb!
If you crank up the heat and let fermentation rip at 72 – 75 F (22 – 24 C), this should result in a ton of ester production. One drawback I’d be concerned about if fermenting this hot is the production of too many fusel alcohols.
The above examples are two extremes. You may be inclined to try a middle ground…that’s fine too. My advice is to try it a few ways and see what you like…brew to your taste!
Nerd fact: A certain ester known as isoamyl acetate is the culprit behind those fruity banana flavors Hefeweizen yeast are so well known for.
Shoot for a balanced profile. Something a bit chloride heavy could accentuate the softness desired when brewing this style.
Brewing an Extract Version
Dunkelweizen isn’t a great beer for brewing with extract. This is because a lot of wheat extracts and Munich extracts actually have about 50% pilsner or 2-row extract in them. That said, you can still brew one using the aforementioned extracts.
This may also be the perfect time to brew an all grain batch. Especially, if this is your first all grain batch. The recipe and the processes are simple and the resulting beer will be sure to impress.
Drinking a great Dunkelweizen brings back the good old days when beer tasted like…beer. It’s got depth while remaining ridiculously drinkable and is a beer I could drink everyday.
It’s not trendy, but it packs a punch of flavor while remaining at a moderate ABV.
Dunkelweizen is a style that deserves more attention. And by attention I mean it ought to be brewed more. So put down your phone and brew it!
Why Doesn’t Anyone Make Dunkelweizen?
I am baffled by the fact that Dunkelweizen is so hard to find in North America. Maybe it’s because it has such a big head! Slapstick humor aside, in this era of hop forward flavors it’s tough for a beer like Dunkelweizen to make a big splash. If we’re being honest, they’re about as sexy as a English Brown Ale and would sell about as fast.
If you’re a believer, like me, that malt flavors are…alluring then it’s time to brew your own and drink it fresh!
Can I Substitute Vienna Malt for Munich Malt in my Dunkelweizen?
Yes and again I say, yes! The desired rich, malty, and melanoidin malt flavors can be achieved with either Munich or Vienna Malt. Munich is more traditional but Vienna is great too.
What’s a Good Substitute for Hallertau?
First I’ll answer with another question. Which Hallertau? If a hop is simply referred to as Hallertau it’s actually Hallertau Mittelfruh. See this article from Craft Beer and Brewing for more on that.
Now that we know exactly which hop variety we’re substituting for, let’s consider its characteristics. Mild, sweetly spicy, herbal, earthy, with some freshly cut hay notes. It’s hard to find a perfect substitute for this essential noble hop.
That said, you can try Liberty, Vanguard, or German Tradition. I’m weird so I might try Saaz too.