We have almost finished out another Oktoberfest, with the festivities in Munich closing down October 6, and some of us have given our livers a workout like they joined Crossfit. But that doesn't mean the partying has to stop. Despite the fact that the Munich fest is winding down, a lot of Oktoberfest parties around the globe still haven't even started. As a matter of fact the Linde Oktoberfest in Tulsa is scheduled to kick off October 17-20, and this party was named by Orbitz as one of the five largest Oktoberfests in America! So, since T-Town is about to throw down in a few weeks, I thought I should cover an Oktoberfest offering by a Tulsa-area brewery: Dunkelweizen by Dead Armadillo Craft Brewing.
Now I imagine a lot of people will see the name of this beer and be pretty unsure of what to expect inside the can, so I figure this is a great place to talk about German beer styles and how to tell them apart. One thing I love about the names of German beers is the utilitarian nature of the German language and how it is used in beer styles. Dunkelweizen, for instance, can be broken into two words: dunkel (which simply means "dark") and weizen (which means "wheat"). When you grab a dunkelweizen, you know you’re getting a dark wheat beer that should have some flavor relation to a hefeweizen. This means we are looking for some of those esters and phenols that are produced by the yeast in German wheat beer that lend banana and clove flavors. Hefeweizen simply breaks down as hefe (yeast) and weizen (wheat).
Other German styles are also very concisely named, such as helles (pale), and some names have just become synonymous with a style. Bock for instance translates to “goat” in German, but as a style of beer it means strong in terms of alcohol by volume. (Bock beers will generally still use lots of goat imagery in their packaging, and even American brewers have followed suit.)
Now we would normally think a bock beer should be dark due to the popularity of Shiner Bock in America, but helles bocks do exist and, as you would imagine, they are both pale and strong. These beers do go up in strength with doppelbocks which are thought of as double strong.
All of these terms can be mixed and matched and the resulting beers should have some characteristics from their names. Recently I brewed a dunkelweizen doppelbock, so one could see that and figure out I made a dark wheat double strength beer. That said, I did have a hard time fitting all of that onto a chalkboard tap handle.
Germans tend to treat their language like LEGOs and there are several other words that provide clues to what you are getting with German beer. Kristalweizens are very clear, generally filtered, wheat beers, while rauchbiers are made with malt that is smoked (rauch translates to smoke. Schwarzbiers are black beers, since schwarz translates to black. It all makes a lot of sense, unlike American brewers that have developed styles like the Black IPA. I mean, c'mon guys the P in IPA is for pale! But that’s another rabbit hole I am not ready to go down just yet.
Despite the fact that this beer has a pretty great label, there is a surprising lack of information on there. In the fine print the beer is listed as a dark wheat ale, but there is no listing of ABV or IBU. I checked Dead Armadillo's website for this info and sadly there was a typo on there, because they have this beer listed at 7.5 percent ABV and 50 IBUs, which would be wildly out of style. After a little more internet research on beer rating sites, I think the ABV is actually 5.8 percent and the IBUs are 28. That’s still a little stronger and a little hoppier than what the BJCP recommends, but really not far enough outside of the target to make a big difference to me.
Aroma and Appearance
The nose on this beer is quite a complex mix of aromas. There is a little peppery phenolic character that kind of fades in and out, fighting for your attention with a sweet malty aroma, and there is little-to-no hop aroma. The color is light brown and the head pours a slight off-white, but dissipates quickly. The beer is fairly hazy and could easily be mistaken for a brown ale if not for the aroma.
Flavor and Mouthfeel
This beer is a pretty fun ride to take your taste buds on. It opens up pretty quickly with a toffee-and-caramel-like sweetness that is instantly met with a sharpness and light clove flavor from the phenols produced by the yeast. The beer finishes with more muted tastes of the toffee and clove, with a few chocolate and vanilla notes hiding in there. The mouthfeel of the beer is medium, as is the carbonation. Surprisingly, for as much flavor is going on in this beer, it is still very drinkable.
I did not originally intend to write this review during this Oktoberfest season, but after seeing this beer in the store and taking it home to try it out, I knew I had to. This is a really unique beer and I would be hard-pressed to come up with another American brewery making a dunkelweizen, and I am fairly certain Dead Armadillo is the only brewery in the state making this style. The flavors are complex and layered and, for a beer nerd such as myself, this one is a real treat. Part of the enjoyment I get out of sampling beers is getting to experience new and different flavors, and if you want to add a curveball to your own Oktoberfest party grab a few six packs of this dunkelweizen.