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

Double D

After the success of the step mash I used on my last brew (Vienna Lager), I decided to really go for it and do a double decoction this week. Brewing a Munich Dunkel, I wanted a very malty brew, with a rich creamy head and a full body, on the sweet side. Decoction mashing is probably the pinnacle of difficulty in the brewhouse, and the most time-consuming. Depending on how many steps you are willing to take, this brew could add an hour or two to your brew day. I opted for a double-decoction, the compromise between a single step and a complicated triple process.

A double decoction involves a low temperature protein rest, then removing and boiling a portion of the mash which, when put back in, raises the whole mash to  saccharification temperature; after a rest, another portion of the mash is pulled out, boiled, and returned, raising the mash to the point of dextrinization and stopping the enzymes. Or so I am told. I just follow directions!

l to r, Dortmund Export, Munich Hell, Munich Dunkel and Schwarzbier

Dunkel (“dark”) is one of the two main year-round styles of beer in Bavaria, the other being Hell (“light”). Both styles emphasize malt over hops, although a noble hop bitterness and some aroma are appropriate. The lager yeasts used in Bavaria generally ferment clean, leaving no real yeast profile, although many do produce a lot of sulfur during the initial stages of fermentation. I poured the Dunkel’s wort directly into the fermenter from which I had just racked the Vienna, thus using in effect a very large active slurry.

Double D Dunkel
5 gallons, all grain


  • 5 lbs. Weyermann Bohemian Pilsner malt
  • 3 lbs. dark Munich malt
  • 1/2 lb. brown malt
  • 1/2 lb. dark (145°L) crystal malt
  • 1/4 lb. melanoidin malt
  • 1 oz. black malt
  • 1 oz. chocolate malt
  • 1-1/2 oz. Styrian Goldings hop pellets (@4.5% aa)
  • 1/2 oz. Hallertau hop pellets (@3% aa)
  • White Labs Old Bavarian Lager yeast (WLP920)
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Crush grains. Heat 14 quarts water to 125°F. Mash in and hold 5 minutes at 115°F. Remove about 1/3 of the mash (6 quarts) and heat to 150°F (leave rest of mash in mash tun at 115°F). Hold kettle 20 minutes, then heat gradually to 200°F. Continue heating quickly to boiling, boil 15 minutes.
Add kettle contents back to main mash, mix in well. Mash temperature should be around 150°F. Hold 20 minutes.
Remove around 2/5 of the mash (7 quarts), heat to 150°F slowly, then quickly bring up to boiling. Boil 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat 15 quarts water to 170° ( for sparging). Return the kettle contents to main mash, mix in well. Mash temperature should be about 165°F. Hold 10 minutes, then begin runoff and sparge, collecting 24 quarts of sweet wort.
Bring to a boil, add 1 oz. Styrian Goldings pellets, boil 45 minutes. Add 1/2 oz. Styrian Goldings, boil 15 minutes. Add 1/2 Hallertau pellets, boil 15 minutes and remove from heat. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading, and pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate.
Pitch yeast, seal and ferment warm (60 – 62°F) for three to four days, then move to a cooler spot (52 – 55°F) for four to six days. Rack to secondary, condition cold (35 – 38°F) for three to four weeks. Prime with corn sugar, bottle, age warm for three days then move to cold storage for four to six weeks.

OG: 1058
IBU’s: 26.5

Notes on process: This was the first time I can remember where I had to wait for the mash water to COOL down – I left the kettle on the woodstove overnight, thinking I would get a head start. In fact, the water was at 150° and it took half an hour to cool to 125°F.