Who wouldn’t want a beer that tastes like fresh bread dipped in molten toffee with a dry finish?
Answer: no one.
Munich dunkel is one of my favorite beers, and I’m frankly shocked that we don’t see more of them on tap in bars, in homes, and on the shelves! It’s a fantastic fall-to-winter beer, and—well-brewed—it is one of the best expressions of malt that you’ll ever taste. It’s a beer with a pitfall, though: it requires some restraint, which isn’t exactly our strong suit as homebrewers.
Rich and dry sounds like it might be a contradiction in terms, but, at least in the Munich dunkel, it isn’t. With the right grist and careful fermenting, you can get the best of the malt flavors without leaving an impression of sweetness. But as I say above, there’s an important caveat to keep in mind: don’t go too far. In this case, I’m referring to the temptation to turn this into a roast- or chocolate-forward beer. Munich dunkel is a dark lager, but save your roast for the schwarzbier. And while that might leave you thinking, “Oh, okay, I’ll just load it up with dark crystal malts instead,” you should be aware that it also needs to stop short of being excessively caramel-ish. Oh, and if you go too far with the maltiness and end up with a lot of raisin or pit-fruit flavors, then you’re really just making a bock.
The best words to keep in mind here are brown lager: clean, malty, and easy on the palate. Think in terms of marzen and not porter. You want the drinkability of a good Oktoberfest but more malt complexity, without the side effects of higher alcohol or crystal or roast flavors.
No one ever said brewing was easy.
Your malt selections are essential here. For my Boreas Dunkel I use a grand total of three, but they’re chosen carefully. When I’ve messed around with this recipe (usually because I’ve run out of something), it doesn’t ever turn out as well as with these specific malts, so this is one of those occasions where I’m going to caution you not to deviate too much, if at all. This is one of the most consistently high-performing beers I have, and its simplicity is its greatest asset.
First, I start with a base of Munich malt (the 9L, not the 10L), enough to get me to 45 gravity points (about 8 lb/3.6 kg). Then, I add 6 oz (170 g) of Victory malt to bump up the impression of toastiness. Last, for color and a bit more malt complexity, I add another 6 oz (170 g) of Carafa II. The advantage of the Carafa malts in a beer like this is that they’re de-husked, which means they’ll be far less likely to impart the roasty, tannic, coffee-like flavors of other dark malts.
Note: if you have slightly hard water, as I do, you might want to add about ¼ tsp (1.3 g) of baking soda to your mash. It imparts a rounder flavor to the malts that you’ll appreciate later! For the more water-geeky among you, my water profile more or less mimics what you’d find in Cologne—the city, not the perfume.
The hops are pretty restrained, which isn’t surprising in a malt-centric beer. I use whatever’s lying around to get about 22 IBUs in a 60-minute addition, and then, with 5 minutes left in the boil, I add just ½ oz (14 g) of something in the Saazer family: Tettnang is good, and I’ve used Perle as well. The goal of that hops addition is to add just a touch of herbal, earthy, spicy flavor, and aroma as a grace note. I tend to notice hops more in the aroma, and they are quickly overshadowed by the malts, but that little flourish wakes up the palate just enough to really appreciate the maltiness.
For yeast I like the Wyeast 2206 (Bavarian Lager). It’s only rarely failed me, and never on this beer. As a high-attenuator and a pretty-high flocculator, it’s ideally suited to a dry-but-malty lager.
As I said, it’s not a complicated recipe, but you should get a complex and rich malt experience out of it. If you find that it’s too sweet for you, and you’re convinced that you’ve fully attenuated and carbonated properly, you might make some adjustments. Try reducing the Victory first, but don’t eliminate it. You might also increase the carbonation a bit (though the lower the better, as I’ll argue below). If that doesn’t work, and only as a last resort, add two ounces of chocolate rye; it will add a touch of roast, but if you use a light enough hand with it, you should be able to get the drying aspect without the roast flavor.
There are two things you want to get out of your fermentation in this recipe. Luckily, they’re both achieved the same way, so you’ll get to kill two birds with one stone: full attenuation and no diacetyl. Diacetyl in and of itself is actually not a deal breaker for this beer, but it might amp up the impression of sweetness, and we can’t have that.
So, start your fermentation nice and low (50°F/10°C), and monitor it closely for the first couple of days. Once you see signs of fermentation, raise the temperature by about 2°F (1°C), and let it go for 3–4 days. At that point, ramp up the temperature by at least 4–5°F (2–3°C), and if you have it in a nice, temperature-stable location (corner of the basement is my go-to) you might consider just pulling it from the fridge entirely. It will slowly rise to room temperature, and the yeast cells will just go to town on everything in sight, also reabsorbing what little diacetyl they might have created.
At packaging, carbonate to two volumes—but if it’s dry enough, go lower. I love, love, love this beer at closer to cellar carbonation and temperature, but if it starts to come off as sweet, add back some CO2—the carbonic bite will take care of the impression of sweetness.
Be careful with this beer, and it will reward you handsomely! I’d take it all day long over an Oktoberfest beer, and once you can pull off this one, you can make virtually any lager.