NOTE: In the 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines, Munich Dunkel is now categorized as Style 8A in Category 8 Dark European Lager which contains German vollbier lagers darker than amber-brown color.
Munich Dunkel is an old style of beer made famous in Bavaria, and especially in Munich. When advancements in malting came along maltsters were able to use the new controlled malting techniques to make a pale malt which soon became famous as the pilsner malt.
The water in Bavaria, and especially in Munich was high in carbonates which just wouldn't produce acceptable pilsners. They could, however, make wonderful dark beers with the darker malts.
Maltsters found that with the new malting techniques they could go further with the kilning process to produce a darker malt that was extremely complex in its character yet still retained most of its fermentability.
This is the malt we now know as Munich malt and is the primary malt used to brew Munich Dunkels. The malt is less fermentable than the pale malts and tends to produce a full-bodied dextrinous beer.
Dunkel means "dark" in German. This style encompasses beers rich in complex malty sweetness with enough noble hop bitterness to keep the beers from being cloyingly sweet.
Some of the malt complexity comes from the chemical reactions occurring during the kilning of Munich malt. Some of the malt complexity comes from the mashing process known as decoction mashing.
Instead of adding hot water to the mash to increase the temperature, decoction mashing involves pulling a portion of the mash to boiling, then returning it back to the main mash to bring the temperature up to various saccharification rests so the enzymes can convert the starches into fermentable sugars and the typical body-building dextrins in Munich Dunkels. When the mash is heated to boiling, Malliard reactions occur which intensify the malty character.
There are many great commercial examples of the Munich Dunkel style from all over the world. Those in northern parts of Bavaria tend to be somewhat darker and may have a nice roasty character to them although this is not considered part of the style.
Many of these beers are made entirely from Munich malt or with just a touch of the darker Carafa malts which add coloring without adding any roasty notes. You can use a mixture of Munich malts with varying degrees of Lovibond for complexity, but don't try to make this beer with a lot of pale malt such as pilsner. You lose the toasty-bready malt character which the Munich Dunkel of famous for.
Munich Dunkel Description
Aroma: These beers are the maltiest of the Dark Lagers and
that rich Munich malt sweetness comes through in the aroma. Think
toasty fresh baked bread crusts to get an idea of the aroma. Since
these beers are so complex, there are many other aromas such as
chocolate, nuts, caramel and sometimes toffee. This is a lager so you
shouldn't find any fruity esters or diacetyl. When on the upper end of
the bitterness range, you may also notice a light nobe hop aroma as
Appearance: Munich Dunkel is a dark beer with colors ranging
from deep copper to dark brown with ruby highlights, typical of beers
brewed with high percentages if Munich malt. The head is creamy with a
light to medium tan color. The beers are usuallly clear but can be
somewhat murky if unfiltered.
Flavor: The dominant flavor in these beers is the rich
complex malty sweetness of Munich malt. The beer should never be
cloyingly sweet and a moderate but noticeable bitterness balances that
sweetness well. You will probably notice light caramel, chocolate,
toast, or some nuttiness in the flvor. You should not find any roast
character, especially any burnt or bitter flavors. The caramel flavors
should be mild and never pronounced. There may be some noble hop flavor
and when present will be low. The balance is toward the malt but hop
bitterness will be noticeable when the beer's finish is drier. As with
all lagers, no diacetyl or fruity esters should be present.
Mouthfeel: This is a dextrinous beer and the mouthfeel should
be medium to medium-full without being heavy. The beer has moderate
carbonation in the 2.5 volume range. There may also be a slight
astringency in the mouthfeel with a slight warming sensation from the
Overall Impression: Munich Dunkels are characterized by the
rich complexity of Munich malt, especially in the toasty notes. The
flavors are rich but not as big as a bock and without the roasty flavors
of a schwarzbier.
Comments: Unfiltered keller-style (cellared) Dukels from
Germany display a richness not found in the exported versions. Many are
extremely toasty and may taste like "liquid bread" with lots of yeasty
flavors evident. If you try to brew this beer with a portion of pale
malts and CaraMunich for color, be careful that you don't go out of
style with the sweetness and caramel notes. There are several styles
bordering the Munich Dunkel such as bock and schwarzbier and varying
from the traditional recipe using almost all Munich malts may push your
beer into one of these categories.
History: The style is mostly a result of the brewing water
in Bavaria. Water high in carbonates naturally produces rich complex
darker beers. The Munich Dunkel was the first beer to bring fame to
Ingredients: The malt bill it typically made up of Munich
malt (up to 100%) with the remainder German Pilsner. Small amounts of
crystal malts can be added for color and body but too much caramel
sweetness is inappropriate. For coloring, small additions of roasted
malts such as Carafa or chocolate may be used judiciously as roasted
flavors don't fit into this style. The use of noble German hops for
bittering and German lager yeast strains is the norm. The water should
be moderate in carbonates. If you have the capability or inclination,
decoction mashing will enhance the malt complexity and create darker
coloring in this beer.
Commercial Examples: Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel, Hacker-Pschorr
Alt Munich Dark, Paulaner Alt Münchner Dunkel, Weltenburger Kloster
Barock-Dunkel, Ettaler Kloster Dunkel, Hofbräu Dunkel, Penn Dark Lager,
König Ludwig Dunkel, Capital Munich Dark, Harpoon Munich-type Dark Beer,
Gordon Biersch Dunkels, Dinkel Acker Dark. In Bavaria, Ettaler Dunkel,
Löwenbräu Dunkel, Hartmann Dunkel, Kneitinger Dunkel, Augustiner Dunkel.
References: Information for this page was adapted from the 2008 BJCP Style Guidelines, the article Munich Dunkel By K. Florian Klemp in All About Beer Magazine Volume 23 Number 5 November 2002, and Brewing Classic Styles, 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew, by Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer.