If you’re a lager fan, it’s hard not to love doppelbock. It’s a showcase of the virtues of the lager style, offering an abundance of complexity from very few ingredients that are allowed to shine through, thanks to the clean fermentation that the lager yeast cells offer. It’s also, however, a style that many struggle with, and there are far too many out there that end up as overly sweet, overly alcoholic, or overly melanoidin-y (there’s a word construction for ya). You want to make a strong lager that doesn’t scream its presence from across the room. The best doppelbocks, in fact, surprise you when you read what they’re packing in terms of ABV, and they’re surprisingly easy to make if you stay out of your own way!
Doppelbock has surprising range, given what we usually expect from the precision-minded Germans who originated the style. Versions range widely in color, alcohol strength, and flavor. Originally, this was a beer brewed by monks for monks, and tradition suggests it was used as a tool to make fasting more tolerable—not because everyone was drunk, but because it was a thicker, lower-attenuated beer that was considered “liquid bread.” Modern examples differ substantially from their monastic forbearers in that they’re fully attenuated (by comparison to the traditional style) and higher in alcohol, but lighter versions do still exist.
What everyone agrees on, though, is that these are beers that showcase malt. Flavors include, at a minimum, a very strong bready presence, usually with a significant dose of toasty melanoidins. Other malt flavors include caramel or even toffee, and increasingly common are dark pit-fruit flavors. The other major flavor contributor here is alcohol, but it should never be hot (and, truthfully, should rarely even be warm if you can prevent it). Instead, the alcohols should add a baked-apple flavor (think cobbler) and a spicy note on the finish.
While many think of this as a dessert beer, it shouldn’t be particularly sweet. Where it is, it’s from the presence of ethanol and relatively low counterbalance from bittering hops. If you can’t drink a full pint of this beer because of its sweetness, then it’s simply too sweet.
Oh, how your local homebrew shop malt guy/gal is going to love me/you this week. This beer has just about the simplest grist imaginable. Trust your maltster—this is effectively a single-malt beer. Your grist? Start with 15 lb (6.8 kg) of Munich malt. Then stop.
I’m kind of kidding—I throw in a dash of two other malts—but that’s basically your entire grist! I’ve done this beer with 100 percent Munich and it’s turned out well, but there’s just a little fine-tuning to be done. Add a quarter-pound (113 g) each of Carafa II (mostly for color, though it adds a touch of dark-fruit flavor) and Victory (to bump up the toasty quality just a bit, in case you get your malt from an older sack of Munich that has lost some of that fresh bread character). You should end up with an OG of about 1.080, but if you want, you can extend your boil to 90 minutes (or longer—why not?) and increase that by evaporation/concentration for a bit more melanoidin character. I don’t—I think it makes the beer too rich—but hey, it’s your beer.
Malt isn’t where I think most people need to get more aggressive, though—it’s hopping. This isn’t a big, bitter beer (like a Sticke Alt, for example), but it still needs some balance. And then it needs a little more because this is a beer you’ll likely be aging and drinking for a while. If you don’t give it enough IBUs to survive, when you open a bottle in six months, you’re going to have a raisiny German barleywine instead of a bready German strong lager.
I like 22 IBUs from a 60-minute addition. Use anything you like, but I prefer something like American Hallertau for the basic “noble hops” flavor profile in the event that some comes through, and it offers a higher AA% so I can use less of it to get my IBUs. Then I like to add an ounce (28 g) of Tettnang at the 20-minute mark; Tett adds a great earthy/floral, black tea−like flavor and aroma that pair beautifully with the malt profile. It, too, is probably a little more aggressive than most doppelbock recipes call for, but I’d make the same “survivability” argument for it. If it means your first few bottles are on the hoppy side, then it’s a small price to pay!
As for yeast, I recommend Wyeast 2308 (Munich Lager) rather than my usual Bavarian Lager strain. The change is because the Munich Lager strain is a bit less-attenuative (which, given the paucity of caramel malts in the grist, can prevent the beer from thinning out too far), has a higher alcohol tolerance, and produces less diacetyl (which can make the beer seem too candy-like and overly rich). It’s a question of fit to the style as well as fit to the recipe, and it preserves the same basic, clean, lager fermentation character.
Take your time. Mash as usual (152°F/67°C is fine) and boil as usual, but really take your time in fermentation. You want the cleanest beer you can get, and hot alcohols are a killer, so low and slow is the prescription here. I start this beer right at 50°F/10°C and ramp it up very slowly from there, starting about four days after pitching. Increasing the temperature by 1°F (0.5°C) per day from then on means you’ll hit about 60°F (16°C) at the two-week mark, and then I simply leave it there for another two weeks.
The beer should be fully attenuated and exceptionally clean with this process. I once used this beer as a base for an eisbock, and it was actually way too clean. Despite a massive freeze concentration that brought its ABV to about 14 percent (and amplified any faults), judges in competitions kept telling me it was too clean and light for an eisbock. Or a doppelbock. And a few even still thought the same when I entered it as a traditional bock. I would have loved to have told them they were drinking a “bock” that was about 150 percent too strong! Bottom line: if you take your time with fermentation, you’ll get the best flavors of your alcohols without any burn or peppery flavors.
Doppelbock is a great winter warmer. If you find this recipe to be too restrained for your tastes, by all means, consider adding some higher-Lovibond crystals or Caramunich or melanoidin malt, but I encourage you to try it this way at least once. See what Munich (almost alone) can do. I think you’ll be glad you did!