Dunkel Bier. What is it?

Most people think of beer and they picture a golden lager with a nice white head. Even my beer rating icon plays along with this stereotype (I admit it), but beers really do come in all shades. Well my friends, I have a little secret to let you in on, Guinness isn’t the only dark beer out there, in fact, some of the best ones, are german.

Since my Munich trip last year, the Dunkel has been one of my favorite bier types. In fact I now keep two or three bottles of Dunkel in my fridge at any one time. I find it to be a great at home or nighttime beer, plus many of them come in the stand alone larger bottles, so I’m not forced to drink more than one or have a left over six-pack laying around. So here’s the Dunkel low-down.

First off Dunkel is just german for “dark” so it can mean a couple of different things, and the beers that call themselves Dunkels can range from amber to a dark reddish brown, but generally the standard is a dark lager with a smooth malty flavor. Dunkels are one of the traditional styles of Munich beer and were popular all over Bavaria, especially in villages and the countryside. The now more standard light colored lager didn’t become common outside of the cities until the end of the 18th century (mostly cause of advances that made them a lot easier to make).

Dunkels get their color from the Munich malts used to make them. Generally they are weaker than a Bavarian Doppelbock and not as dark as a Schwarzbier (which is a stout from Thuringia and Saxony and not Bavaria). Most of the well known bavarian breweries like Hofbräu, Spaten, Schneider & Sohn and Löwenbräu make a version of the Dunkel. The one made by Franziskaner, the Hefe-Weisse Dunkel, is a dark wheat beer, sometimes called a Dunkel weizen (this is one of the ones I always keep in my fridge as its got an awesome dark flavor and a lighter finish). One of the first things I do when going to a new german bierhall is to see what kind of dark biers they have on tap. If they lack a Dunkel and only have 6 different light lagers, there’s something I don’t trust about the place.

Here’s some of my favorites:

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