NOTE: In the 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines, Dunkelweizen has been changed to Style 10B Dunkles Weissbier in Category 10 German Wheat Beer which contains vollbier- and starkbier-strength German wheat beers without sourness, in light and dark colors.
The information below is still valid, but use it as reference when studying for the current BJCP exam.
Dunkelweizen is a dark version of a Weissber with the added complexity that darkly kilned and roasted malts contribute. The term comes from the German word for dark "dunkel" and wheat "weizen". It is a moderately dark, spicy, fruity, and malty beer. It is often described as a refreshing effervescent and creamy Bavarian Wheat beer with lots of banana, clove, vanilla, apple, bubblegum, and sometimes nutmeg flavors.
The dark malts give the beer its color and complex rich Munich malt character that is very similar to a Munich Dunkel. There are many variations of this beer. Most people expect to taste some caramel-like sweetness in a Dunkelweizen that is typical of a traditional German decoction mash (where a portion of the mash is taken out and boiled, then added back to the mash to raise the overall temperature).
To brew this beer yourself, remember that it is still a wheat ale and needs at least 50% malted wheat in the grist. Adding a small bit of caramel malt will give it that desired/expected sweetness without having to do the complicated decoction mash schedule. But be careful not to add too much which will put the sweetness over the top for the style. Use the freshest malted wheat and continental Pilsner malts or extracts that you can find for this beer. As with a Weissbier, fermenting this beer at 62°F (17°C) with a healthy Hefeweizen wheat ale yeast will give you the best balance of fruity esters (banana) and phenolic flavors (cloves, nutmeg, etc.) without adding any of the stronger byproducts that a warm fermentation will sometimes produce.
Dunkelweizen / Dunkles Weissbier Description
Aroma: A Dunkelweizen has moderate to strong phenols
(usually clove) and fruity esters (usually banana). The balance and
intensity of the phenol and ester components can vary but the best
examples are reasonably balanced and fairly prominent. Optionally, a low
to moderate vanilla character and/or low bubblegum notes may be
present, but should not dominate. Noble hop character ranges from low to
none. A light to moderate wheat aroma (which might be perceived as
bready or grainy) may be present and is often accompanied by a caramel,
bread crust, or richer malt aroma (e.g., from Vienna and/or Munich
malt). Any malt character is supportive and does not overpower the yeast
character. No diacetyl or DMS. A light tartness is optional but
Appearance: The beer is a light copper to
mahogany brown in color with a very thick, mousse-like, long-lasting
off-white head. The high protein content of wheat impairs clarity in
this traditionally unfiltered style, although the level of haze is
somewhat variable. The suspended yeast sediment (which should be roused
before drinking) also contributes to the cloudiness.
Flavor: A good Dunkelweizen will have low to
moderately strong banana and clove flavor. The balance and intensity of
the phenol and ester components can vary but the best examples are
reasonably balanced and and the banana and clove flavors are fairly
prominent. Optionally, a very light to moderate vanilla character and/or
low bubblegum notes can accentuate the banana flavor, sweetness and
roundness; neither should be dominant if present. The soft, somewhat
bready or grainy flavor of wheat is complementary, as is a richer
caramel and/or melanoidin character from Munich and/or Vienna malt. The
malty richness can be low to medium-high, but shouldn’t overpower the
yeast character. A roasted malt character is inappropriate. Hop flavor
is very low to none, and hop bitterness is very low to low. A tart,
citrusy character from yeast and high carbonation is sometimes present,
but typically muted. Well rounded, flavorful, often somewhat sweet
palate with a relatively dry finish. No diacetyl or DMS.
Mouthfeel: Dunkelweizens have a medium-light
to medium-full body. The texture of wheat as well as yeast in suspension
imparts the sensation of a fluffy, creamy fullness that may progress to
a lighter finish, aided by moderate to high carbonation. The presence
of Munich and/or Vienna malts also provide an additional sense of
richness and fullness. Effervescent.
Overall Impression: Dunkelweizens are
moderately dark, spicy, fruity, malty, refreshing wheat-based ales,
reflecting the best yeast and wheat character of a hefeweizen blended
with the malty richness of a Munich dunkel.
Comments: The presence of Munich and/or
Vienna-type barley malts gives this style a deep, rich barley malt
character not found in a hefeweizen. Bottles with yeast are
traditionally swirled or gently rolled prior to serving.
History: Old-fashioned Bavarian wheat beer was
often dark. In the 1950s and 1960s, wheat beers did not have a youthful
image, since most older people drank them for their health-giving
qualities. Today, the lighter hefeweizen is more common.
Ingredients: By German law, at least 50% of
the grist must be malted wheat, although some versions use up to 70%;
the remainder is usually Munich and/or Vienna malt. A traditional
decoction mash gives the appropriate body without cloying sweetness.
Weizen ale yeasts produce the typical spicy and fruity character,
although extreme fermentation temperatures can affect the balance and
produce off-flavors. A small amount of noble hops are used only for
References: Information for this page was adapted from the website Germanbeerinstitute.com, The German Beer Portal for North America, the 2008 BJCP Style Guidelines, and Brewing Classic Styles 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew, written by Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer.