This week’s feature is another monastic beer, one which was chosen the best of its style three times in the World Beer Cup. Brewed in the oldest monastery in Bavaria, this week’s beer is Weltenburger Kloster Barock Dunkel, a Munich dark lager with 4.7% abv.
Located in Weltenburg on the Danube in Bavaria, Germany, Weltenburger claims to be the oldest monastic brewery in the world, though the title is disputed by Weihenstephaner. The Weltenburger brewery was founded in 1050, whereas Weihenstephaner received its license to brew ten years earlier. The basis of Weltenburger’s claim is perhaps a document which makes reference to the death of a ‘Master Brewer’ in 1035.
Dunkel, which simply means “dark” in German, is a lager with a brown to mahogany hue which originated in the Bavarian city of Munich. As is the case with all Bavarian-style beers, dunkel is a malt-forward beer with only a little hop accent. The aroma and flavor are characterized by the richness of Munich malt, which is reminiscent of bread crust and is optionally accompanied by flavors and aromas akin to chocolate, nuts, and caramel. The style is very similar to schwarzbier, likely a variant of dunkel, except schwarzbier is usually darker and drier with more of a roasted malt edge.
Dunkelbier is usually made with Munich malt, a sweet, bread-like variety—potentially up to 100%. Otherwise the rest is grainy and honey-like German pilsner malt. Naturally, the hops should come from the fragrant and mild German noble hop family. The malt in dunkelbier often undergoes a multi-step heating process which breaks down the starch in the grains, typically into maltose. The method also produces what is called the Maillard reaction, a type of non-enzymatic browning which results in the release of hundreds of flavor compounds. The same reaction occurs in the preparation and production of other foods such as bread, pretzels, and coffee beans.
Weltenburger Dunkel pours a foamy, light tan head and a clear, deep mahogany body with coppery edges. The aroma is dominated by a rich, somewhat prune-like bread crust aroma with an undertone of baby formula. There’s lots of toasty malt and puckering dried fruit in the flavor and just a little caramel sweetness. A brief metallic taste appears in the back end, and then the finish is very grainy. It’s medium bodied, moderately carbonated, and somewhat astringent.
The tart, toasty malt isn’t smooth and sweet like I was hoping, but that prune and bread crust taste is still agreeably flavorful. The lovely appearance and rich aroma are very appetizing. Overall, it’s satisfyingly malty with hops merely providing support—my kind of beer.
Today’s beer was purchased at Sake Taniguchi, located a short distance from Kita-senju Station in Tokyo. Weltenburger’s beers can occasionally be found at other locations in Japan such as Yamaya and other grocery stores.