Make Your Best Dunkelweizen

This dark wheat beer is not only a great “back-to-school” beer, but it is surprisingly refreshing during the hotter summer months, too!

Josh Weikert Jun 19, 2016 - 7 min read

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Sometimes, being impatient for beer can yield some surprising results. I first made my Dunkelweizen in the middle of a heat wave (hence its name, Hitzewelle, which is German for heat wave) because the malt profile made me think of the great beers of autumn. Throughout the brew day I was thinking how great this would be as a “back-to-school” beer, and I had every intention of letting it sit in the cellar for a few weeks—I do love a little delayed gratification.

But then I had a party, and my guests drank the fridges dry, and a week later all I had on hand was my Hitzewelle. Out-of-season beer is better than no beer, so I opened one—and was blown away by how well it worked on a warm summer night! So while I’m writing this with an eye toward making your Dunkelweizen for that September-ish “shoulder season” before the Oktoberfests come out to play, don’t be afraid to brew it and drink it now.

Style

Dunkelweizen (or Dunkles Weissbier) is, as its name states, simply a dark wheat beer. Practically speaking, it’s the German Hefeweizen, plus a richer malt flavor. The characteristic flavors of banana and clove are present, as is the tendency to allow the yeast to remain in suspension, and the beers are largely indistinguishable in their brewing processes. They’re also both very easy-drinking, with a soft mouthfeel and high carbonation. But the Dunkels version differs from its lighter sibling in that it also adds a richer bread and toast flavor. It shouldn’t make the beer “heavy,” but it certainly adds an element that’s absent from the Hefe.

Where the Hefe is like drinking trail mix, Dunkels is like drinking fruitcake. There’s a distinct “bakery” character to it, on my palate, and I find that it also holds up better with food pairings. Every brewer should try to make this style when starting out because it’s also a very easy beer to get right.

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Ingredients

By tradition, German wheat beers should be at least 50 percent wheat malt. This one is no exception, but I would caution against adding any more than 50 percent—while I’ve never had a stuck sparge because of too much wheat or rye, it does happen, and I’d hate to recommend a recipe that resulted in a process problem! So one half of your base malts should be wheat, and the other half Munich malt. For a five-gallon (19 l) batch, five pounds (2.25bkg) of each should do it.

You’re also going to add an additional half-pound of specialty malt to the grist, of which two ounces (57 g) will be Carafa II (mostly for color) and the remaining six ounces (170 g) can be any caramel malt you like. Choose something new, an old favorite, a variation (Special Roast instead of 120, for example). You want essentially one additional malt note in the beer, and it can be almost anything because this grist and the esters/phenols that are coming can accommodate a wide range of flavors. Have some fun and see what works!

Hops are minimal in this beer: 15 IBUs of anything added at the start of the boil is fine. Some like to use a touch of aroma hops, and if that’s you, stick with a good, classic German noble hops such as Hallertau, and add it with a very light hand.

Yeast is unimportant in this beer. Just kidding! _Yeast selection is imperative, because you want a classic fermentation profile—if you don’t have it, _you don’t have a Dunkelweizen. Banana and clove are staples in this beer, and for that, there’s no better choice than Wyeast 3068 Weihenstephan Weizen Yeast/White Labs 300 Hefeweizen Ale Yeast. They’re essentially the same strain, and both are good attenuating, low-flocculating, ester- and phenol-producing choices. So long as you treat them right.

Which brings us to…

Process

Some people will tell you to ferment this beer warm to ensure that you achieve the fermentation character you need. Ignore those people.

In fact, not only is that unnecessary, it’s straight-up wrong. If you push your temperatures with this yeast and this beer, you’re going to overdo it. In my experience, it results in an overly sweet berry/banana ester profile, phenols that smell more like white pepper than clove, and hot alcohols that wreck the soft flavor experience you’re supposed to have.

I ferment my Weizens (both of them) at 64°F (18°C). Some go cooler than that, but I’ve found that doing so can be too limiting in terms of yeast character. Just a degree or two warmer guarantees easily detectable amounts of the esters/phenols you want, but with virtually no risk of producing something that tastes like bread dipped in cheap perfume.

A typical ale fermentation (slow rise with a push at the end to clean up diacetyl) will do fine, and be sure to carbonate to a solid 2.5 volumes of CO2—maybe even a touch higher, but you shouldn’t be in champagne/Berliner Weisse territory.

In Closing

For the traditionalists out there who might be thinking of doing a decoction mash on this beer, I won’t tell you not to…but it isn’t necessary. An ounce of melanoidin malt can produce some of the same flavors, if you feel like your version isn’t turning out “rich” enough. More on that and other ingredient vs. process tips another week, and in the meantime, enjoy your summer heat with an unexpectedly good warm-weather beer style!

Learn everything you need to know to brew great beer using the partial-mash or all-grain method. From raw ingredients to pouring your first pint of homebrew and everything in between, get started with CB&B’s All-Grain & Partial-Mash Brewing class today!

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