February 17, 2014 by Prost Brewing
As was mentioned in a blog last week, lagers did not make their debut in Germany until the 16th century when Christopher Columbus was first discovering America. The first lagers were dark due to the old kilning techniques that left the malt slightly browned. Thus, it is not surprising that Germany’s first standardized lager was named after it’s dark color with the now well-known bier name, “Dunkel,” which of course in German means dark.
Today, the name “Dunkel” may be used to refer to several types of dark German lagers. In fact, the word “Dunkel” may even be applied to dark colored wheat beers properly named, “Dunkel Weizen,” or literally “dark wheat.” Although, typically “Dunkel” refers to a group of dark lagers that may range in color from a lighter amber to a deep and rich chocolate colored brew. Despite these variations, Dunkel lagers are all characterized by their smooth and malty flavor profile that is uniquely “Dunkel” as the Germans like to say.
These distinctive malty flavors come from a special brewing technique known as decoction mashing. If you don’t already know, mashing is the process by which the brewer heats milled grain submerged in water to help facilitate the conversion of starch to simple sugars via the activation of enzymes naturally present in the malt. This is important so that the yeasts will have plenty of simple sugars to feast upon (since they can’t eat and break down starch!).
Decoction mashing is unique in that it requires that the brewer boil one part of the mash separately from the whole before it is added back into the rest of the mash, effectively raising the temperature of all of the mash to an acceptable degree. While it may sound a little complex, this method is actually traditional (i.e. old!), and was performed simply out of necessity before the invention of thermometers as a way to regulate the temperature.
Thanks to the wonders of chemistry, the boiling step involved in decoction mashing also results in what are called “Maillard” reactions in the science world. These are the same chemical reactions that give browned foods such as oven baked bread and pan-seared steaks their irresistible flavors.
In beer, these reactions also work their magic, resulting in compounds technically known as “melanoidins” that impart a plethora of unique and rich malty flavors upon the Dunkel bier drinker’s tongue! Today, these flavors are so valued that many brewers are willing to still go through the extra efforts involved in decoction mashing for such uncommon flavors!
Now are you in the mood for a Dunkel!?! The smooth and malty pleasures of an authentic German Dunkel lager awaits you at Prost Brewing. Of course, Prost Brewing’s Dunkel is no ordinary Dunkel. Learn how Prost makes one of the most unique Dunkel biers this side of the Atlantic on next week’s blog! Stay tuned!