How to Brew Munich Dunkel

by Steve Thanos | Updated: April 2, 2020


Often overlooked by the newer styles that contain more hops or sweet adjuncts, the Munich Dunkel is not given the respect that it rightfully deserves.

Often looked at as the German version of a dark mild, this style is a good example of an everyday, easy drinking beer.

The Laws of Brewing

A version of a Munich Dunkel was probably brewed by Benedictine monks in Munich, Germany around the mid 12th century. Two laws in Germany helped this style become what we know it as today.

The first law is the Bavarian Beer Purity Law of 1516, which is better known as the Reinheitsgebot. The second law in 1553, also passed in an attempt to better control the quality of beer, prohibited brewing during the summer months.

The brewing window was from late September to late April.

Beer in Bavaria was dark due to how malt was kilned in the early 1800s. Due to this necessity, a regional preference for these dark beers was established in Bavaria and even in Czech areas. All of this was about to change.

Change for the Better

Munich malt was the byproduct of advancements of the kilning process in 1820. A richer tasting malt was made possible without the smokiness.

Gabriel Sedlmayr took this to great lengths when he was using this malt in the Spaten brewery in Munich.

Sedlmayr was known to have brewed the first “modern” dunkel in 1830. As Michael Jackson(the beer guy, not that other one) would later proclaim, “the heyday of dark lagers in Bavaria was during the 1840s to 1890s.”

Munich Dunkel Style and Characteristics Profile

Appearance

The color for a Munich Dunkel will range from a copper to dark brown. A light to medium, creamy tan color head will grace the top of your beer.

The beer itself can either be clear or murky, dependent upon whether the beer is filtered or unfiltered.

Aroma

Munich malt will take center stage with the aroma category. Also invited to the party is a sweet, and somewhat toasty, bread crust maltiness. This beer can also have hints of nut, caramel, chocolate and toffee.

A very slight nobel hop on the nose can be smelled here. Diacetyl and fruity esters should not be present.

Mouthfeel

The body of this beer will range from mid to full. The beer should glide ever so smoothly on your palate without being thick, heavy or overly cloying.

A slight warming may be detected that will leave you with a bit of a dry finish. Moderate carbonation is also common.

Taste

The deep rich Munich malt character is front and center here. The hops are there to offer bitterness with no hop flavor. It’s important to note the malt flavor should be sweet but never cloying.

That’s to say that the sweetness should not coat your mouth. Caramel, chocolate, toast, and nutiness may be found along with bread crust.

Food Pairing

Cheese: Rich, buttery flavors of aged Gruyere harmonize well with the caramel sweetness and light roasted flavors of this style.

Proteins: Bring out the flavors of sweet and savory BBQ pulled pork, roasted meat and game of all kinds with the caramel malt and light roast sweetness of a Munich Dunkel.

Even better, pair this style with recipes normally served with a fruit based sauce for added pairing perfection.

Recipe Development for a Munich Dunkel

Base Grain

As the name implies and as I may have been mentioning once or twice, Munich malt is the base grain you want to use for your Munich Dunkel.

Munich malt is such an underutilized base grain. It contains enough enzymes to convert fully.

There is really nothing stopping you from going with 100% of Munich malt. I will address how to make up the difference in color a little later.

Specialty Grain

If you do decide to go with some specialty grains, Carafa is what you want to use. At 3% of the grist, this will impart just enough color to transform your beer from amber colored to a truly dark brown colored beer.

You could also consider taking 90% Munich malt from your base or Munich 10L, as Martin uses, and then fulfill the remaining 10% with Munich 20L.

Just a word of caution, never use a specialty malt that will give your Munich Dunkel any sort of roastiness.

Hop Schedule

The hops that are used will only be used to counter the sweetness that the Munich malt will express in your beer.

A nice German noble hop variety such as Hallertau, Tettnanger, Spalt, or as Martin uses, Perle hops.

Traditionally, the hop addition would be added at the beginning of the boil and that is it. You can be very light-handed with a slight addition of aroma hops at the end of your boil.

Yeast

Use a good German lager yeast for your Munich Dunkel.

White Labs WLP883 (German Bock Lager) or Wyeast 2308 (Munich Lager) are both highly recommended to use.

You could also use White Labs WLP830 (German Lager) or WLP820 (Octoberfest/Marzen Lager).

The Mash

As I was alluding to earlier, the color of a 100% Munich malt mash will leave you with a beer that is slightly lighter than what the BJCP standards call for with a Munich Dunkel.

The way around this is by doing a traditional decoction mash.

A decoction mash is a process of raising a third of the mash to boiling and then adding it back into the mash. This can be completed multiple times, hence the terms double decoction and triple decoction.

It tends to add color, increased body to your beer, and more melanoidins to enhance flavor in your beer. A triple decoction is a traditional way of brewing German beers.

Munich Dunkel Characteristics

  • Color Range: 14 – 28 SRM
  • Original Gravity: 1.048 – 1.056 OG
  • Final Gravity: 1.010 – 1.016 FG
  • IBU Range: 18 – 28
  • ABV Range: 4.5 – 5.6%

Martin Keen’s Munich Dunkel Beer Recipe

Grain

  • 92% 9 lbs Munich Malt
  • 5% 8.0 oz Victory Malt
  • 2% 6.0 oz Carafa II

Hops

  • 1.00 oz Perle Pellets – Boil 60.0 min
  • 0.50 oz Tettnang Pellets – Boil 5.0 min

Yeast

  • 1.0 pkg Octoberfest/Marzen Lager (White LabsWLP820)

Josh Weichert from craft beer and brewing magazine describes Munich Dunkel as tasting like fresh bread dipped into Molton toffee.

That sounds pretty good to me and I’m going to brew one up while experimenting with splitting up my brew day.

How to Brew Munich Dunkel Homebrew Challenge 6

Hi, I’m Martin Keen and I’m taking the Homebrew Challenge to brew 99 different beer styles. And as I’m brewing those beers, I’ve really focused in on trying to reduce the overall length of my brew day. It’s one of the reasons I elected to get a uni brow system, but there’s no getting away from it.

Brewing beer is a big chunk of time commitment out of your day. Now I have got into the habit of prepping the day before a brew day, so I’ll typically measure out the ingredients and get my system set up the night before. But brew day is still this big mammoth amount of time that I have to set aside.

Typically it’s about three and a half hours for me. So what I want to do is to be able to incorporate brewing better into the free time that I have over the next three days.

So what I’m going to do is fit the brew day into little portions of free time. It’s at 45 minutes here, 90 minutes there and so forth. And then in between those stages, I’m just really going to pause what’s going on with the brewing so I can go about living my everyday life. So it’s 9:00 PM Monday night. Let’s get started by measuring out some ingredients.

So what do I have for ingredients? Well, base malt for this one is Munich malt. I have a Munich 10 here and I have nine pounds of that. Then for my specialty malts, I have uh, eight ounces of Vienna malt, which will give the beer the toastiness that we’re looking for. And then for the malt complexity, and of course the color, I’m using Carafa II and I’m using six ounces of that.

Alright, let’s get this stuff crushed up.

How to Brew Munich Dunkel Homebrew Challenge 7

All right. Grain milled gonna put the top on this and next time sort out the brewing equipment. Well, there we go. Grain measured and milled system built water added it, that’s me. Done for the night. Good night.

All right, I’m home from work. It’s a, it’s Tuesday at 5:00 PM now. Something I did this morning before leaving was I plugged in my temperature controller into a smart plug. Now this is just one of these plugs that basically will turn power on or off and you can control it on your phone.

So what I did is I set my temperature controller to the strike water temperature that I wanted and then turned it off at the smart plug. Then I set an automation to turn this thing back on again at 4 30 this evening. So at 4 30 it clicked on the uh, temperature was then heating up in a, in my kettle here.

And I’ve arrived home now to strike water, which is at the temperature that I want it. So I am ready to go straight to mashing in.

I’m mashing in at 152 Fahrenheit for about 60 minutes to get to a pre boil gravity of 10 42. Beautiful color on this one.

How to Brew Munich Dunkel Homebrew Challenge 11

Alright. Pop this lid on it. Mashing. Time for the school run

It’s been about 35 minutes of mashing while I was away. The color has gotten a little bit darker now. Now what I’d like to do at this point is to take a gravity reading to see how close I am to my desired pre boil gravity. So the way that I will do that is very easy with this system.

I’m just going to steal a sampling here of the wort. Here’s my digital for monitor to figure out the temperature. Okay, 146 then put the hydrometer in. It looks like the reading is about 10 28 put that into beer Smith.

I can see here that 1.028 at a temperature of 146 is a corrective gravity of 1.045. That’s actually a couple of points over what I was looking for. So this mash is effectively done.

So with that being the case, it’s now to remove the grains from the wort. From the smell alone I can almost already taste that fresh bread dipped in Molton toffee. Smells delicious.

Okay, so what I will do here is I’m going to turn off the temperature, turn off the pump and then pull the grains out of the boil.

How to Brew Munich Dunkel Homebrew Challenge 15

Take the green basket off. Now it’s finished draining. I’m just going to put the lid on. Actually putting this on upside down creates a better seal with this thing on here. Done.

Now I’m going to put the brakes on here and pause this brew day again until I have a bit more time. Now I didn’t want to just leave the mash in here at mash temperature because over time that temperature is going to drop and there is the potential for all sorts of bugs and infections to get into this wort as it cools down.

I guess I know I’m going to be boiling the wort later anyway, but at this sort of temperature, at mash temperature and a little bit below that there is the opportunity that the beer can kind of sour in that time frame.

So to avoid that, I’ve heated this wort up to 170 Fahrenheit and then what I’ve done on my temperature controller here is I’ve put it in boil mode, which means the heating element is always on and I’ve set it at 10% capacity. And what that’s doing is holding the beer at about 170 Fahrenheit.

So the whole time I’m away, the beer is constantly on. The heating element is on running at 10% capacity, which is going to keep the beer warm, but it’s not going to let the temperature drop and it’s not going to boil it. So I’m now free to go about the rest of my evening, have some dinner, watch some TV, hang out with the family, and I’ll come back to this a bit before bedtime.

Okay. I’m back for the evening session with supplys. German pills, really come out nice. Now the uh, this works incredibly well, uh, having this running at 10%, um, I came back, you know, hours later.

It’s a, it’s 9 45 right now and I finished about 6 30. So, it’s been running for several hours at 10%. And the temperature when I came back 170 Fahrenheit, it just maintained the temperature perfectly. So I’m heating up now to boil. This won’t take very long. I’m at 180 already. Um, and that is when I will add in the hops.

It’s now without malt Ford beer style, like Munich Dunkel. It’s no surprise that there are not a ton of hops going into this. I’m going for an IBU of 27. I’m going to get there using my bittering hop as a Perle hops. I have one ounce of those and I’m going to put those in at 60 minutes.

Then with five minutes to go, I have a Tettnang hops, half an ounce of those, and I’ll be adding those at five minutes just to give a little subtle hint of a little bit of Herby-ness, a little bit of spiciness on the finish of this beer.

The beers come out at 10 58. I cooled it down to 64 is as cool as I could get it. That’s not cool enough. I need to get it to 50 Fahrenheit. So what I’ve done now is I’ve put the beer into my fermentation chamber, which I’ve set to be cold and I’m just gonna leave it there overnight.

And then when I get up in the morning, that’s when I’ll add the yeast and complete the brew day. So last thing I’m going to do now is just give everything a quick rinse, and then soak this in PBW overnight.

Good morning. The wort chills, two 51 Fahrenheit overnight. So it’s now ready to receive the yeast. I have here a starter of WLP 8 20 that’s Oktoberfest Marzen yeast.

So what did I think of the split brew day?

Well, if you have enough time, there’s a lot to be said for just knocking out an entire brew in one go and being done with it. I especially like to start really early, get a brew done by like 10 30 in the morning and I’m done for the day.

But that said, the flexibility that this provides me of splitting my brew day really means I can brew at times or I would just never otherwise have the time to do it. And it’s really comforting to know the fact that if I get through a, say a mash and I’m halfway through brewing and then something comes up, I know it’s actually going to be pretty easy for me just to hold things where they are.

Stop and then come back later when I’ve got more time to do the boil. So yeah, this has been, this has been a good experiment and a nice option to have.

How to Brew Munich Dunkel Homebrew Challenge 24

Time to taste this thing. I’ve got Lauren here with me. So the fermentation notes, this thing came out at 10 16. It’s a 5.5% beer. So let’s take a look. First of all, as always at appearance, it’s dark, dark, dark, dark. Yep. Um, style guidelines say sort of a very dark red, which I think this is, it does look black originally, initially.

Right. But yeah, but it does, if you hold it up to the light, I think it has a little tinge of color. Smells pretty malty. Yeah.

So if this was just like a random beer, sat on a bar and I sniffed it, um, I, I would expect for a beer this dark to sort of get some toasty notes. Uh, maybe a coffee smell. And it’s certainly none of those things, right?

Yeah. No, I agree. If I saw this, I’d probably think it was like a stout or something and it doesn’t smell like that. Nope. Nope. Multi, a little bit of sweetness.

Yeah. That’s wierd I do taste A slight hint of sweetness. Yes. I don’t know, to me it’s kind of takes a little bit like caramel undertone. Well, what I’m going for is, um, bread dipped in liquid toffee is the description for this beer, so I could, I could totally see that. Yeah.

Without being like too sickly sweet, right. Yeah. No, yes, definitely a very light sweetness for sure. Well, for you to say that you’d like a dark beer, I feel like that’s a, that’s a success, but it’s not really a dark beer though, as a dark appearing beer.

It’s totally different. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. Well, I will drink to that. Cheers.

I am the former President of my homebrew club, Plainfield Ale and Lager Enthusiasts (PALE) in the western suburbs of Chicago, IL. I brew on my BIAB system with my incredibly patient and understanding wife, adorable 9 year old daughter, and 12 year old brew dog.