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

Ingredients:

  • 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

Procedure:

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

Brewing on the Dark Side

What’s your favorite beer style? My usual answer to that is – whatever I happen to have in my hand at the moment. Not entirely true, but true enough. I can honestly say that there is not one style I don’t like at all, if it’s well-made. Even light American lagers, generally looked down upon by home brewers, can be a refreshing beverage if they are well brewed.

When I look back over a year of brewing, however, there emerges one interesting trend. Almost 75% of what I have brewed in the last twelve months has been dark. Part of it is, I guess, that there are more dark beer styles in general – it is much harder to keep a beer light in color than it is to brew a dark beer. But I’m not talking about ambers and light browns, I’m talking about DARK beers. Stouts, porters, dark rye beers, black lagers, dark Belgian dubbels, etc. And here I am this morning continuing the trend, as I brew a Munich Dunkel. Dark reddish brown in color, malty and sweet, this is a nice style of lager for those who like a balanced beer. It’s not huge and alcoholic, it’s not overly hopped, not particularly aromatic, just a nice medium-bodied dark beer with enough bitterness to keep the malt in check and enough malt to support some hop flavor.

Münchner Dunkel
5 gallons, all-grain

Ingredients:

  • 4.75 lbs. lager malt
  • 3 lbs. dark Munich malt
  • .75 lbs. 120°L crystal malt
  • .75 lbs. toasted Victory malt
  • 1 oz. Carafa malt
  • 1 oz. black malt
  • 1 oz. roasted barley
  • 1.9 AAU’s Mt Hood hop pellets (1/2 oz. @3.8% aa)
  • 3 AAU’s Perle hop pellets (1/2 oz. @6% aa)
  • 3.8 AAU’s Mt. Hood pellets (1 oz.)
  • 1.5 AAU’s Hallertau hop pellets (1/2 oz. @3% aa)
  • White Labs Southern German Lager yeast (WLP838) recultured to 1-1/2 cups slurry (see previous post, “Save the Yeast”)

The night before brewing, toast the Victory malt on a cookie sheet, 15 minutes @375°F.
Grind all grains.

On Brew Day, heat 13 quarts water to 165°F. Mash in grains and hold 75 minutes at 154°F. Heat 15 quarts water to 170°F, begin runoff. Sparge, collect 6 gallons of sweet wort. Heat to boiling. AT onset of boil, add 1st Mt. Hood pellets, boil 45 minutes. Add Perle hops, boil another 15 minutes. Add the rest of the Mt. Hood, boil a further 15 minutes. Add the Hallertau, boil 15 more minutes (90 total), remove from heat. Chill to 80 – 85°F, as quickly as possible. Take a hydrometer reading, pour with much splashing into your sanitized primary fermenter. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment at 60°F for ten days to two weeks. Rack to secondary, age cold (38 – 42°F) for four to six weeks. Prime with 3/4 cup of corn sugar, bottle and condition six weeks or more.

OG: 1058
IBU’s: 31.5 (a bit high for style, but I like it a little hoppier than the classic profile)

Brewing notes: While grinding the grains I had a potential setback – my mill stopped actually processing the grains, it was just spinning without drawing anything through. And it was making a horrible “fingernails-on-the-chalkboard” kind of noise. A rock. Sure enough, I removed all the grain from the hopper and round a piece of amber-colored quartz about the size of a kernel of barley which was jammed in between the rollers and preventing them from functioning. It took about ten minutes to pry it loose and remove it, but there were no further problems.