Don’t be Afraid of the Dark

I often get into conversations with customers about their perceptions of different beers. One of the things I hear the most frequently is “I don’t like dark beers, they’re too heavy…” or words to that effect. That’s when I remind them that a) Guinness Stout has fewer calories, fewer carbs, and is lower in alcohol, than the standard American Light Lager… and b) dark lagers like Munich Dunkels and Schwarzbiers are on the light and refreshing side, perfect for warm weather drinking.

Warm-weather drinking means cold-weather brewing. This morning we got hit with the first real snow of the winter. My wife even had a snow day from school. The house is steamy and aromatic as I brew this winter’s Dunkel, deep reddish-brown, malty but with a nice piney spice note, smooth and clean and thirst-quenching… I will be using the yeast from this batch, leaving it right in the primary fermenter, to make a Munich Helles Lager next week, the light-colored counterpart to the Dunkel. That means I will have to get a couple of batches bottled and empty a carboy or two! Being snowbound, I am more motivated to get indoor stuff accomplished, so that should be doable.

Blizzard Dunkel

5 gallons, all grain


  • 5 lbs. Bohemian Pilsner malt
  • 3 lb.s dark Munich malt
  • 1/2 lb. 120°L crystal malt
  • 1/2 lb. brown malt
  • 2 oz. Carafa I malt
  • 1/2 lb. Melanoidin malt
  • 1 oz. Mt. Hood hop pellets (@4.7% aa)
  • 1/4 oz. Northern Brewer hop pellets (@12% aa)
  • 1 oz. Hallertauer hop pellets (@3% aa)
  • White Labs Oktoberfest Lager yeast (WLP820)
  • 2/3 cup corn sugar for priming


Crush grains. Heat 13 quarts water to 164°F. Mash in grains, hold at 152°F for 60 minutes. Heat another 15 quarts water to 168°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 25 quarts sweet wort. Bring to a boil, add 1/3 oz. Mt. Hood hops. Boil 15 minutes, add the Northern Brewer hops. Boil another 15 minutes, add the remaining 2/3 oz. Mt. Hood hops. Boil another 15 minutes add the Hallertauer hops. Remove from heat after another 15 minutes (60 total). Chill to 75°F, take a hydrometer reading and pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Pitch yeast and seal. Ferment at 55 – 60°F for three days, then move fermenter to a colder spot (40 45°F). Ferment another eight to ten days. Rack to secondary and lager four to six weeks at 40°F. Prime with corn sugar and bottle, condition cold (38 – 40°F) for six weeks.

OG: 1058

IBU’s: 30

2 Replies to “Don’t be Afraid of the Dark”

  1. I decided to do a dunkel for my first home brew attempt ever. I used the kit 238. I followed the instructions very closely but I’m concerned and none of my home brew friends have done dunkels…so…

    I was told to expect some bubbling action during the first few days – that never happened. Today is one week later and someone suggested that it needed more heat for the yeast to activate so I warmed it to 75-80º, but now as I read your instructions it sounds as if I’ve gone the wrong direction. So my question is was it supposed to bubble or was I on the right track before and I need to NOW cool my beer down to the 45º that you did? My current reading is 1.015

    1. As a general rule, I let fermentation begin at “room temperature” – which can vary seasonally in my house from 60°F around now (late November – with the heat on and a fire in the woodstove) to 75°F in July and August. I generally only do my lagers (such as Munich Dunkels) during the winter months, as I have a back room which I don’t heat and which stays a constant steady 40°F from December through March. Primary fermentation starting at 60+°F, but moved to the lagering room as soon as active fermentation subsides, usually a week or so.

      You should definitely have seen some bubbling if the yeast was active and all was sealed properly. Three things could have happened: too cold for startup – yeast goes dormant/sluggish in colder temperatures; non-viable yeast – was there a best-buy date on the package? sometimes a packet of yeast is just too old or has been improperly handled to work; poorly sealed fermenter – not knowing what you are fermenting in, I can only recommend that you check carefully any gaskets, grommets, stoppers, etc. for leaks – the slightest gap will allow CO2 out without passing through an airlock – you could have been fermenting perfectly well and just not seen it happen.

      If the problem was the temperature, warming it gradually to 65 or more may well activate the yeast. But I would also double check the seals just to be sure. Did you take an initial specific gravity reading? If so, take another at this point to see if it has in fact fermented secretly…
      Good luck!

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