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.
Dunkelweizen is a dark version of a weissbier (a dunkles weissbier) with the added complexity that darkly kilned and roasted malts contribute. The term comes from the German word for dark "dunkel or dunkle" 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.
This description comes from the 2008 BJCP Style Guidelines:
"Aroma: This beer 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 acceptable.
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."
References: Information for this page was adapted from the website Germanbeerinstitute.com, The German Beer Portal for North America, the 2008 and 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines, and Brewing Classic Styles 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew, written by Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer.
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