With taprooms closed and festivals cancelled, I’ve been looking for ways to still engage with Chicago’s craft beer scene. I’ve therefore decided to finally work my way through The Complete Beer Course, which had been sitting on my bookshelf for a few years. Working through it involves the tough job of sampling beers for each style the book details. I’ll balance national (and international) recommendations from author Joshua Bernstein with examples from Chicagoland breweries. Unless otherwise stated, historical background comes from The Complete Beer Course.
Style: Munich Dunkel
History Lesson: Dunkel (which means “dark” in German) originated in Bavaria, the region in Southeast Germany where Munich is located. Two historical events were instrumental in its development:
- The introduction of the Bavarian Reinheitsgebot in 1516. This Purity Law required brewers to only use water, barley and hops in their beer (the fourth ingredient, yeast, had not been discovered yet). The introduction of this regulation helped to instigate lager brewing through cool fermentation in caves, which brewers found to make better-tasting beer.
- The invention of the indirect-heat malt kiln in the nineteenth century, which helped roast malt more precisely to achieve a specific flavor profile. This led to the development of the consistent flavors in the modern Munich Dunkel.
Beer Judge Certification Program Description: “Characterized by depth, richness and complexity typical of darker Munich malts with the accompanying Maillard products. Deeply bready-toasty, often with chocolate-like flavors in the freshest examples, but never harsh, roasty or astringent; a decidedly malt-balanced beer, yet still easily drinkable.”
Fun Fact: While Munich Dunkel is a specific style, “dunkel” could technically refer to any dark lager that a German bar has on draft.
Third Coast Review’s Take: Wow, everything about a Munich Dunkel, besides its color, is exceedingly light. There’s fairly little smell, a light body, and the crisp, clean aftertaste you’d expect from a lager. It’s a session beer that predates the term, and a German equivalent to an English Mild.
Hofbräu Dunkel checked two boxes: recommended by Bernstein and available by the bottle at Binny’s. While not a bitter beer, it’s certainly the hoppiest of the three. It’s likely the Herkules hops doing the heavy lifting, followed by the malt sweetness and clean finish that the other dunkels exhibited.
Dovetail Brewing produced the subtlest and most balanced of the three dunkels. It’s what I’d order if I were at lunch on a vacation in Germany: something tasty prior to an unencumbered afternoon on my feet.
Oak Park’s Kinslahger stood out among the three. It’s noticeably darker in color than the others, with distinct chocolate flavors and a longer (but not lingering) aftertaste. An interesting aside: when I interviewed co-owner Keith Huizinga, he said he offers customers a sample of dunkel when they ask for something light.
Bonus: For fun, I also picked up a couple bottles of Metropolitan’s Arc Welder Dunkel Rye. The Avondale brewery writes on its website that the 28% rye bill is “reminiscent of the not-as-famous style also brewed in Bavaria – Roggenbier.” The added complexity with the rye bill and distinct reddish color reminded me of of a Vienna Lager, a style we’ll get to in due course.
Up Next: We’ll stick in the world of dark lagers with bock. Stay tuned!