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Homebrewing a Munich Dunkel and Showcasing Your Specialty Malts

Homebrewing a Munich Dunkel and Showcasing Your Specialty Malts

Das Robobier Dunkel about to boil

Our January 2019 Beer Ingredient Kit is Das Robobier Munich Dunkel, available as both Extract and All Grain, a classic low alcohol style that is a masterpiece of malt, balance and specialty malts.  This week on BrewCranium, I wanted to go further into our process for developing a Dunkel, the differences between ale and lager yeasts, and how to put your specialty malts on the best possible display for any beer that you brew!

Das Robobier Munich Dunkel in Weyermann Munich 2

Step 1:  The Malt

Traditionally, the Dunkel beer style is a low abv dark lager that carries a rich maltiness and very slight bitterness.  It has a full body with an all around malt forward character. Our thought was this: how can we use a mix of traditional base malts and newer, more exciting crystal malts to achieve this?

Although the recipe credit really goes to Mike Rozema, we all had a great time going back and forth on the recipe and process.  As always in our recipe formulation process, we started with the yeast. We wanted to do this lager style as an ale, and wanted a clean, malt forward character so that all of our malts would shine, so naturally we chose Imperial Kaiser.  This German style strain is reminiscent of Wyeast 1007 and White Labs WLP036 with it’s strong fermentation tendencies, medium attenuation and clean, malt forward flavor profile.  We’ll go more into yeast and fermentation a little later!

Now that we had our yeast, it was time to put the rest together.  We started with Weyermann Munich Type 2 as our base malt.  Now, using Munich as your base malt can be a challenge unto itself.  Munich is technically a base malt, and one of the more delicious base malts, but it’s also very low in diastatic power.  In fact, most Munich malts are right on the edge of being able to convert themselves, so you want to pay attention to your mash and conversion.  You may need to give yourself a little extra time at this step to make sure that you are getting all of your sugars. That being said, nothing tastes as amazing as a Munich S.M.A.S.H., and having it as the driving force behind a beer, especially this style, is almost the only way to go to our way of thinking!  The biscuity, cracker-malt profile it gives you are simply unattainable with any other malt, so we wanted this to be the canvas that the rest of our specialty grains painted on.

Specialty Grains for Das Robobier

For our crystals, we wanted to hit all of the flavor points, those being light, sweet crystal, lightly toasted medium caramel, and highly kilned, melanoiden rich toffee.  We started with Caramel Steam 40° L.  This is a newer caramel malt from Great Western, and has a light caramel sweetness coupled with a rich, nutty characteristic.  The graham cracker crust and caramely-plum flavor was ideal for the low kilned crystal flavor profile in this beer, and for our test batch, we threw it in at around 3%. 

Our medium caramel was none other than my current favorite, English Crystal Rye 70° L,  I know that I have a slight obsession with this malt, and am currently seeking help.  The versatility and sheer number of types of beer you can brew with this is absolutely astonishing!  We’ve used it in everything from our Wee Heavy beer recipe to our Unified IPA, our take on the Sierra Nevada Resilience IPA brewing companies and craft beer fans are brewing nationwide to help those impacted by the Camp Fire in California.  The extra depth and complexity that this crystal gives was ideal for our medium level caramel flavor, adding light notes burnt toffee and anise without being overbearing and taking over.  This also went in right around 3% of the total grain bill.

For our dark crystal profile, we went REALLY dark, bringing in the Patagonia Caramel 170° L big guns.  Not only is this a malt that we’ve been wanting to try since our good friend and craft brewer Alex Costa (see his incredible article on specialty malts HERE!) started telling us about it a few years ago, but we felt the dry raisin-y, burnt toffee and roasted bread flavors seemed like the perfect way to finish off this crystal malt complex endeavor, and we added this in at around 5% of the total grain bill.

WOrking Together to Get a Great Malt Character

Making Them All Work Together

So this is where the hard part happens:  making all of these malts talk and getting the best of each to come forward in the beer.  The way to do that is with residual sugar, because that’s what helps all of these more complex crystal flavors available to your palette.  It’s a balance game, not leaving so much that it’s like eating a malt ball, but also not drying it out so that you have an over bittered, watery and almost astringent or over-hopped dry beer.

Das Robobier Recirculating Mash

Now, we already have a leg up because we’re using Munich 2 as our base malt, but it’s not enough of a leg up to discount mash temp and go way too low, which is what we did our first time around brewing this recipe.  Exactly what you’d think happened: we got a dry, over bittered and watery bodied Dunkel. The complexity of the crystal malts and the Munich was amazing, just not living up to it’s full potential. The first time around, we opted for a moderate mash temp, which was 151°, expecting the Munich to shine through way more than it did.  Luckily, the beer is still palatable, and we learned a valuable lesson! If we really wanted to, we could add a pound of Maltodextrin to the keg, which would add back the residual sugars that we converted and balance out the whole beer.  This is always a great and easy fix for this kind of issue with a finished beer, and can save a batch in a pinch!

The fix for this is a higher mash temp, using more of the alpha-amylase to give us more body, mouthfeel, and giving us more residual sugar for the rest of these incredible crystal characteristics to play off of.  We adjusted mash temp to 154° F, and also adjusted all of the caramel malts up a percent or so to make sure that they shone through properly.

The malt extract version of this recipe won’t suffer nearly as much, as there is always a little more residual sugar when brewing with extracts as your base.  While the finished beer will be a little less nutty from the lack of Munich malt, it’s still an excellent Dunkel!

Hopfield in Germany

Hopping It Up

Ok, maybe hopping it up is a misnomer as this recipe only has 29 or so IBU’s, but the hop flavors and characters are still a huge part of the balance of this beer.  For hops, Mike opted to ge with German Tettnang and German Hallertau Mittelfruh, both lightly floral, pleasantly bitter, and, in Tettnangs case, slightly earthy or spicy.

The hop additions in this beer are at 30 minutes and 15 minutes instead of one giant, 60 minute addition.  This leaves more hop terpenes in solution and gives us a little bit more of the hop character we’re looking for without isomerizing the alpha acids to the point where the beer is overbittered.

Das Robobier Imperial Kaiser Pitch

Lager Yeast VS Ale Yeast

When you’re making a really classic beer style like this, it’s a bit harder to stray from the line and totally change the yeast type.  Let’s be honest, though, not all of us have the luxury of fermenting at 55° F, and we wanted to show that you can make an awesome, lager-like beer with the right substitution of an ale strain. 

We chose Kaiser because we wanted some real world experience with this strain vs it’s counterparts from other yeast labs, and the profile was perfect for what we were trying to do with this beer.  Other good ale options for this beer would be Imperial Cablecar for it’s lager-like qualities and medium low attenuation, as well as it’s counterparts, White Labs WLP810 and Wyeast 2112.  We are also HUGE fans of the Cry Havoc strain from White Labs, WLP1983.  This is another ‘hybrid’ strain that gives amazing lager qualities when brewed at ale temps.

If you can ferment at lower temperatures, the Weihenstephan lager strain, represented by Imperial Global, White Labs WLP830, and Wyeast 2124 may be the perfect strain to do it with, although I admit that we’ve used this strain extensively, and are absolutely in love with it!  It really puts forward the malt character of a given beer, and seems to help round off any rough edges of bitterness and astringency.

The real difference between the ale and lager strains, other than individual strain characteristics, is going to be that super crisp perception of dryness that lager strains portray.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be dry, and many lager strains are deliciously malty, but there is an undertone of crispness that comes along with them. Many lager strains also produce more sulfur compounds during fermentation, hence the post fermentation ‘lagering’, or cold storage, period after primary to let all of these compounds dissipate and leave you with a clean beer.  We usually do this part in the keg so that we can “make sure” that the process is working periodically by tasting it!

All of this being said, you can make an amazing dunkel as both an ale or a lager, or do 10 gallons and do 5 gallons of each!  This way, you can taste them side by side and see which you like the best! If you want a great place to start, give Das Robobier a shot!  It’s an awesome hybrid of modern malts that makes a very classic style fun to brew and even more fun to drink!

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