It’s back! Our award-winning Heart of Darkness dunkel has returned to SBC taps through March, which means it’s time to get to know this beer a little better. Luckily for you, there’s no one better suited to really geek-out about this dunkel than our talented Brewmaster, Ashton Lewis. And while you could sum up the Dunkel by saying it’s a rich, malty lager with aromas of dark bread, roasted nuts and a touch of smokiness, where’s the fun in that when this flavorful brew has such a great backstory?
To get the scoop and all the beer geeking-out that comes with it, we now turn to Ashton!
What are the ingredients in our Dunkel?
A.L.: Are you ready for this? I’m about to really geek-out on beer here. We use North American 2-row pale malt for the base of this brew, and then we add in a combination of Weyermann Munich, Carafa III, and Beechwood smoked malts to give the beer a good malt complexity. That combination also gives our Dunkel its rich color and subtle smokiness, but really, the star of the show is the original malt. The rest of the ingredients including the Northern Brewer and German Tradition hops, carbonate brewing water and our house lager yeast strain are all just supporting cast.
How long does the Dunkel take to brew?
A.L.: It takes our brewers four weeks to get this beer on tap.
Is the brewing process for the Dunkel any different than what’s done for our other beers?
A.L.: We use a single decoction mash technique for this beer, and that’s the last mash step. It sounds fancy, but basically, decoction mashing just means you are boiling a portion of the mash. There is so much magic and intrigue surrounding decoction mashing, and really around beer in general.
How do you know when the beer is ready to be tapped?
A.L.: You know when a beer is done brewing by checking its density. The density is what tells you about that beer’s fermentation process. It sounds really complicated, but basically, what happens in this: Our brewers monitor a beer’s fermentation by periodically taking fermentation samples and measuring the beer density with a hydrometer. When the density stops dropping and stabilizes, we know fermentation is complete. At this point, the beer is then chilled and lagered or simply cold-aged. Simple, right?
What are the flavors/features you’re looking for?
A.L.: Oh boy. I can’t help but get poetic when talking about the abundance of rich flavors in the dunkel, so bear with me… This is a rich, malty lager with flavors reminiscent of dark bread, toasted nuts, and hardwood smoke wafting in the distance during a winter hike in the woods. It’s beautiful, and that’s what we are after.
The terms “Malty” and “Sweet” are often used as a pair when describing beer, but the fact is that not all malty beers are sweet, and not all sweet beers are malty. That’s the beauty of Heart of Darkness. This is a malty beer that is not sweet. Another beer flavor we keep in check is the hops. The job of the hops in this beer is to keep things in balance without taking over the beer’s flavor. Kind of like the bass line in a great ballad, if you pay attention, you know it’s there, but when you stop focusing, it fades away as solid support.
What was the trial and error process when creating this beer?
A.L.: I suppose the process used to formulate this beer could be termed trial and error, but we kind of skipped the error part. This beer truly began as an inspired brew!
In November of 2012, I was attending a meeting in Nuremberg and was enjoying some really great malty lagers (some of them smoked). Back in my room each night, I would review articles for Brew Your Own magazine, and one night I read an article about a German Doppelbock with a dose of Rauchmalz (smoked malt) in it for added complexity. I was really intrigued by this idea, and once I got back from my trip, I decided to formulate a dunkel using a small amount of this special smoked malt. The outcome was delicious!
We didn’t reveal the secret ingredient when the beer was brought on tap in February 2013 because we didn’t want undue focus placed on the smoked malt. We all liked the beer a lot and entered it into the Great American Beer Festival in the German Dark Lager category, and our Dunkel ended up winning a silver medal. Only one of the judges detected the smoked malt, and we were dinged by using a “non-traditional ingredient” for that style of beer. We all got a good laugh out of this because all dark malts had a smoky tinge 200 years ago before the advent of modern malt kilning technology.
So after that lengthy answer, I guess really, this beer was inspired after soaking in plenty of German beer culture. Oh well! We like that sort of trial and error.