Dunkelweizen, Hefeweizen’s Darker Cousin

In the past few weeks we’ve looked at three popular styles from the US, Britain and Belgium. Let’s go to Germany this week and discuss Dunkelweizen. Don’t confuse Dunkelweizen, an ale, with Dunkel lager, also called Munich Dunkel. Dunkel simple means “dark.” Dunkelweizen, like Hefeweizen, is a wheat ale, just a dark one. But it’s not a stretch to think of Dunkelweizen as a cross between a Hefeweizen and a Munich Dunkel. The style displays characteristics of both.

Dunkelweizen originated in Bavaria, in Southern Germany, and has similarities with Hefeweizen, but also a few big differences. Both are unfiltered wheat beers. By German law, the grain bill of Weizen-biers must be made up of at least 50% wheat. Yeah, it’s the law… Deutschland take its beer quite seriously. Weizen yeast give the beer fruity and spicy flavors, most commonly, banana and clove. The big difference is that Dunkelweizen gets its rich color from darker malts, usually Munich or Vienna Malt. These darker malts add sweetness and caramel, toffee, vanilla or nutty flavors. Some have chocolate and roasted flavors, similar to a Dunkel lager. Others have a biscuity character, and combined with the other flavors, can taste a lot like banana bread.

Dunkelweizen look great in a glass, the unfiltered beer has a reddish-brown, with an SRM* of 14-23. At 10-18 IBUs*, there is little hop bitterness, the malt/bitterness balance leans toward light malt sweetness, although they are never cloyingly sweet. You can have few Dunkelweizens with dinner, the ABV* of 4.5-5.6% makes it a flavorful session beer.

Commercial Examples

DSC_0556We’re fans of Franziskaner’s Hefe-Weisse Dunkel. It pours a hazy reddish-brown. You’ll notice sweet aromas, like toffee, and fruit, with a touch of banana. When you drink it you’ll tasty biscuity malt flavor, with toffee, nuttiness and banana, with a hint of clove on the finish. This one reminds us of banana bread, although the banana is not overpowering. There’s no banana in the beer, you’re tasting isoamyl acetate. Don’t fret, it’s not some crazy artificial ingredient, but a natural ester, product by yeast as a byproduct of fermentation.

You should also try other German versions from Weihenstephaner, Ayinger and Erdinger. Unfortunately, Dunkelweizen is not a style that has caught on with American craft brewers. Sam Adams, Shiner and Great Divide have made Dunkelweizens, but none have the style in their current lineup. The closest is Shiner’s winter seasonal is Holiday Cheer, a flavored Dunkelweizen with Texas pecans and peaches.

Food Pairings

Dunkelweizen is a great match for traditional German foods, especially the pork dishes. Salty roasted pork or pork sausages plays off the sweetness of the beer. Dunkelweizens with more noticeable clove flavors are a perfect complement to ham. The beer works well with roasted chicken too. And while many beers aren’t great for desert, Dunkelweizen can be, especially with banana cream pie or banana pudding!

Next time you’re in the mood for something different, try a Dunkelweizen. And if you’re in Bavaria, impress the locals with correct pronunciation… ask for a “doonn-kel vite-sen.”



*Standard Reference Method
*International Bitterness Units
*Alcohol by Volume
All quantitative specifications are from the BJCP Style Guide.