Gluten-Free Munich Dunkel April 19 2021, 0 Comments

Munich Dunkel was my gateway beer. It's a fun story.

A dear friend of mine and I traveled around Europe after college. In Munich, Germany, we visited a beer garden that was just perfect. There were families sitting around picnic tables, miniature golf for the kids, a jazz band was playing, and was BBQ being smoked.

Anyhow, there was also beer. Up until that point probably the best beer I had ever had was Miller High Life. Yes, I lived a sheltered life. Also, we didn't speak any German. So we went up and ordered two different kinds of beer. They poured them and brought them over to us. One was light, like a pilsner, and one was dark. Both my friend and I looked at the dark beer thinking, "Oh no, I don't want to drink that one." We each took a sip.

I know that a light bulb didn't literally appear over my head, but it sure felt like it. It was delicious! Malty, sweet, I thought to myself "Aha, THIS is why people have been brewing beer for thousands of years!"

I told my buddy, "You can have the lighter one, I'll drink the dark one." Scott replied "That's ok, you can have the light one if you want." "You like it too!" I exclaimed. I later found out that the dark beer was a Munich Dunkel. And the course of my life was forever changed...

The Recipe

  • 11.75lb Goldfinch Millet Malt
  • 4oz Black Pitch Rice Malt
  • 4oz Medium Biscuit Rice Malt
  • 2.5lb Rice Hulls
  • 2oz Hallertau Hops (60min)
    • 1oz Hersbrucker Hops (20min) 
  • 2 packs Saflager w-34/70 dry yeast
  • 1 tsp Wyeast Beer Nutrient (10 min)
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet (10 min)
  • 15g Ondea Pro brewing enzymes (mash)
  • 10g Ceremix Flex brewing enzymes (mash)
  • Dash of Phosphoric Acid in sparge water
  • 9 gallons reverse osmosis water
  • Monstera water treatment
    • 1lb D-90 Belgian Candi Syrup

The Mash

Well, my last few brews went off without a single hitch. Today, it seemed, the universe wanted to balance the accounts.

I got an early start, since I was also smoking a chuck roast in the Weber Smokey Mountain smoker. It was not terribly cold (25F), but we had just gotten a lot of snow, so there were big snow drifts to work around.

I started milling the grain, and about half-way through, I noticed that my drill was having a real hard time. When it started to smoke, I figured it was time to give it a break. I also noticed that that set screw in my mill had come loose, so the rollers were not parallel (probably why the drill was having such a tough time).

After lots of fussing, it became quite apparent that I was going to do no more milling this day. Since a good portion of the grain was not fully cracked, I knew my gravity would be quite low. To compensate, I decided to add a pound of the Belgian Candi sugar (indented above in the recipe). Because my gravity was going to be low, I also decided to remove the Hersbrucker hops (also indented above) to reduce the bitterness / hoppiness a bit.

I was about 7 degrees below my target mash temperature (156F vs 163F) because of the extra time I was wrestling with the mill. Not off to a great start, but could be worse.

One new thing I tried in this batch was the Monstera water treatment. It's a sample from a company that replicates the water chemistry for famous brewing areas of the world. I used a bottle that recreated the water in Goslar, Germany. You use either reverse osmosis water or distilled water, add the bottle that contains salts, minerals, etc., and brew away. Can't wait to taste the results!

The Boil

With the addition of the Belgian Candi Sugar, the gravity was just 3 points lower than target, which was a lot better than I was expecting. The boil went off just fine except for two hitches:

  • As I was recirculating the wort to sanitize the tubing coming out of the kettle, the tubing became dislodged and started spraying wort everywhere but the boil kettle. I was able to shut off the pump pretty quickly, but I did lose some volume. And thankfully did not lose any skin!
  • I've been trying to add a second wort chiller in the kettle to make the cooling more efficient. This has led to pretty crappy whirlpooling action. In the pilsner (last batch), too much of the trub made it into the fermenter. With this batch, I was able to shut off the flow before the trub really started dumping in, but it also meant I lost some more volume in the kettle. 

As mentioned earlier, I skipped the 20 minute Hersbrucker hop addition so as to keep the balance of the beer slightly on the malty side. 

Post Boil

Because of the cold ground water, i was able to cool the wort down to around 50F. The ambient temperature in the basement is F. Fermentation kicked off in about 24 hours and smelled good and yeasty.

After 14 days, fermentation was just about done, so I brought the beer upstairs to where it was about 63F for a diacetyl rest. After 4 days, I cold crashed the beer, kegged it, and lagered it for 6 weeks.

Final Verdict

This is an interesting verdict. On one hand, the beer is a disappointment, while on the other hand, it's not. I'll explain.

First, the disappointment. While it looks like and slightly smells like a Munich Dunkel, this beer doesn't really taste like one. It has a fairly strong cherry notes in it. It's not an ester character, so it's not from fermentation. And it's not a cherry pie character that you may get from an infection. My first thought is it was from the Belgian candi sugar I added. But after an early preview of the Oktoberfest I brewed (a future blog post), it's from the Goldfinch malt.

Now, the "it's not." The beer tastes good. It's just not what I was intending to brew. But this is also a little bit of a lightbulb moment for me. While some styles can be imitated using GF ingredients, I think some flavors are hard to get not using barley. And sure, I used Goldfinch malt rather than Munich malt, but the Munich millet malt I tasted tasted even further away from what I remember barley Munich malt tasting like.

So I think I'll be taking the brewing in a little bit of a different direction. Up until this point, I had basically been trying to make as close to barley beer as possible without using barley beer. I think I've discovered that perhaps the better route to take is to just figure out what flavors you can generate using the ingredients you have, ie, brew less to style and more to flavor.

It'll be challenging, but I think a fun challenge.

Lessons Learned

  • I need a more powerful drill! Either that or I need to build a dedicated mill setup with a different type of motor.
  • I need a clip to hold the hose on my boil kettle for when I'm recirculating. If I wasn't right on it, I could have lost the entire batch in a minute or three.
  • I need to figure out either a better way to whirlpool with both chillers in the kettle or a different way to utilize the second chiller (soak in an ice bath and run water through it on the way to the other chiller in the kettle, for instance).
  • Gluten-free beer can be pretty great, but to maximize potential and flavor, it needs to be its own thing. While some styles / grains match well to barley beers, it can also have the freedom to be its own thing. 

Up next is a hazy IPA, this time loaded down with Sultana (Denali) and Azacca hops!