This week’s Know Your Styles is being brought to you by fellow beer blogger Dave Nelson. Dave runs Beer, Wine and Whiskey and also has a weekly piece on the RFT’s Gut Check called The Noble Writ, be sure to check it out! Thanks again to Paul from the Wine and Cheese Place in Clayton for supplying the beers for this feature.
Dark American Lager
These beers are decendents of the Munich Dunkel style, and there is no bright line between them. For some, “Munich” Dunkel is a literal geographic definition, and anything made outside the environs of Munich is necessarily excluded. Others draw the distinction based on how closely a particular beer matches their (pre?)conception of what a proper Munich Dunkel should taste like. “Dark American” is also misleading, as there are plenty of European examples that are included in this style by BJCP. The defining characteristics of the style are an emphasis on malt flavor over hops, and derivation of that malt flavor from darker malts that lend flavors of brown bread, caramel, and even a bit of chocolate. Use of these darker malts also result in colors that range from mahogany to dark brown. North American examples can also include a good whack of corn in the grist which, depending on your tolerance for the associated aromas, either adds some complexity, or triggers your gag reflex. I actually don’t mind a touch if I’m eating Mexican food that is incorporates corn or corn tortillas (I found this out, as my neighborhood Mexican joint charges $3 for a bottle of Negra Modelo, or $3.25 for a 22 oz. draft Dos Equis Amber). The samples Paul and I selected from the stock of the Wine and Cheese Place represented three different countries, and provided three very different takes on the style: Shiner Bock from Texas is a bock in name only, clocking in at 4.7% alcohol; Negra Modelo is a classic example from Mexico; and Warsteiner Dunkel which I hope the BJCP folks included as an example of this style simply because it does not technically come from Munich. What you should be seeing: Colors range from light to dark brown. Of the examples I sampled, the Shiner Bock was the lightest in color, coming in with a light mahogany, while the Warsteiner Dunkel was the darkest, getting all the way to a dark walnut. The beers should be clear, with nice heads and retention.
What you should be smelling: Malt is the star of the show here, with the richer, toastier, browner flavors coming from malts that have been kilned at higher temperature. Hops play a supporting role, if they make an appearance at all. The Warsteiner was the deepest and most complex of my examples, with warm, slightly yeasty aromas of freshly baked brown bread, supported by light, spicy German noble hops. The Negra Modelo was all about the malt. Less intense than the Warsteiner, and more caramelly, with no evidence of hops. The Shiner brought the corn, and way too much of it for me – it did a remarkable impression of caramel corn, something I don’t mind eating from time to time, but drinking it is another story.
What you should be tasting: These are relatively light beers in alcohol content, running in the 4.5-6% range, so incredible intensity is not on the agenda. The Warsteiner again topped the group for me. Toasty malt definitely dominated the palate, but there was some complexity to it, as well spicy hop and a strong mineral streak. Overall it was long and well-balanced, with a lot more flavor than either of the other beers. The Negra Modelo was less intense and complex, though it added a distinct caramel note to the malt profile. It had just enough hop bitterness and a crisp carbonation to bring some balance. The Shiner was very unpleasant – it was dominated by that soft, slightly sour malt note that characterizes so many adjunct lagers. There was a bit of caramel sweetness, but I did not find that to be a positive addition. No hops, no bitterness, no finish.
How you should be drinking this: For glassware, any iteration of the Pilsner glass is a fine choice (that’s a Prima Pils glass in my pics). On a warm day, I like a nice stoneware mug to keep the beer cool a little longer.
What you should be buying: Apart from the beers I sampled, other easy to find representatives would include Berghoff Dark, Dos Equis Amber and the “dark” versions of Beck’s, St. Pauli Girl and Heineken. I’m not a particular fan of any of these other beers, and would spend my hard-earned on things like Ayinger Albairish-Dunkel, Capital Munich Dark, in addition to the Warsteiner. With all of these beers, freshness is paramount. These are not big beers and age and mistreatment quickly take their toll.
Related Styles: Munich Dunkel.