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Dunkel means 'dark', so can be applied to any dark beer, but there are two distinct types and several sub-types, so it can be a confusing term. Dunkels can generally be divided into dark wheat beers and dark lagers.
All Lagers were dark until the 1840s, when breweries in Pilsen (in what is now the Czech republic) started brewing golden lagers. Dark lagers are brewed with a darker roasted malt than pale lagers and have a distinctive taste. Dark lagers gradually gave way to pale lagers from the 1890s throughout the 20th century, though many Bavarian breweries still include a Dunkel Lagerbier in their range.
Thanks to Ron Pattinson (http://www.xs4all.nl/~patto1ro/index.htm) for the following comments:
There are 3 basic types of dark lager:
Münchner - a malty, lightly-hopped beer that used to be the standard beer of Munich. This was the type of lager that was the first to be brewed outrside Bavaria. Gammel Carlsberg is a (very poor) example of a foreign imitation. It's still brewed in various countries around Europe, almost always poorly.
Franconian Dunkles - a very heavily hopped, bitter dark beer that also has dark malt flavours. It's only really brewed in Franconia and I know of no similar beer from elsewhere. Confusingly, in Germany it usually is called Dunkles Export, just like the Munich style.
Schwarzbier - a very dark, opaque beer that is mostly brewed in Saxony and Thuringia. It can have burnt and liquorice notes that resemble flavours found in a stout. This style is becoming increasingly popular and some formerly West German breweries have started brewing it.
The term "dunkel" is also applied to dark top-fermented wheat beers (weissbiers) such as Franziskaner Dunkel Hefe-Weissbier and Erdinger Weissbier Dunkel. Schneider Weisse is half way between an ordinary Weiss and a Dunkel. These include a yeast sediment that should be swirled in the last part of the bottle and poured into the glass. The tastes often include toffee, nuts, spicy hops, chocolate and perhaps a little coffee.
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Last updated: 1st August 2004
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