Bend’s Boneyard Beer is best known for its flagship RPM IPA, and has earned a reputation for brewing strong, hoppy ales with colorful names such as Hop Venom, Armored Fist, and Hop A Wheelie. So when Boneyard released a beer at the very end of December named Creepy Dunkel, it caught my eye because it’s a type of wheat ale known as a “dunkelweizen,” decidedly not a strong or hoppy style.
Dunkelweizen belongs to the family of German wheat ales which includes weissbier (better known to Americans as hefeweizen) and the lesser-known weizenbock. Hefeweizen is the best-known variety of the style, pale golden in color and often hazy with yeast. “Dunkel” means “dark” in German, describing the amber-to-brown color derived from rich bready malts, and weizenbock is a double-strength variant.
German wheat beers date back hundreds of years, and prior to the 1800s only Bavarian royalty had the right to brew them. This monopoly was broken in the 19th century, when Georg Schneider began brewing “modern” weissbier in 1872. The pale wheat ales that dominate today, however, only became popular in the 1960s; prior to that, the style was traditionally dark.
The signature feature of these beers is a distinctive banana and clove yeast character, both in the aroma and the flavor. Lesser notes of vanilla, bubblegum and black pepper are not uncommon.
This character may come as a surprise to drinkers familiar with American-style wheat ales, such as Sunriver Brewing Company’s Fuzztail Hefeweizen and Deschutes Brewery’s American Wheat Ale, which exhibit clean, bready flavors and citrusy hops.
The yeast in the German styles drives not only the unusual aromas and flavors, but also plays an important visual component as well. The beers typically have a hazy appearance from suspended yeast, and many aficionados swirl the bottle to rouse the yeast just for this appearance.
For whatever reason, dunkelweizen is somewhat rare among American brewers, so I reached out to Boneyard to find out more. According to Liz Mario, the company’s communication and events manager, the beer was the creation of brewer Dana Robles, who brewed it at the original facility. “At Brew One, our Lake Place location, we’ve just been rotating our shift brewers over there,” Mario said. “And they’re able to come up with their own idea for a recipe, and brew that up on the 20 barrel system.”
Robles started brewing at Oakshire Brewing in Eugene in 2009, followed by three years at Ninkasi Brewing before joining Boneyard in 2015.
“Dunkelweizens are one of my favorite styles, so naturally I brewed one,” said Robles via email. “My beer obsession really took off while working at the Bier Stein in Eugene around 2007. I grew an appreciation for most styles of beer working there. Swirling the yeast around in a dunkelweizen or hefeweizen before serving was part of my everyday experience.”
The brewery provided me with a crowler (a 32-ounce can) of Creepy Dunkel to review. A hazy appearance is common in these types of beers, yet this one poured from the crowler fairly bright and clear (which can be a side effect of kegging for draft rather than bottle conditioning with yeast in the bottle), and deep amber-copper in color. True to style, the aroma primarily exhibits spicy clove, with a hint of banana and a medicinal, spicy note. Toasty, grainy bread crust malts give it a rich, nutty impression.
That spicy character greets the tongue, with clove and black pepper, and a mellow yeastiness that is reminiscent of bread dough. There is a moderately rich, bready malt presence, and the body is spritzy and fizzy on the palate with a lightly spicy aftertaste. True to style, the beer is effervescent and refreshing in the finish.
The recipe Robles put together was experimental for Boneyard, with some new (to the brewery) grains and yeast from Wyeast Labs in Hood River. The grain bill follows German tradition, consisting primarily of red wheat followed by classic German Munich and Carabohemian malts which add body and color.
“I didn’t do anything tricky with mashing and lautering the beer,” Robles said. “We have a single infusion mash, two vessel brewhouse at Brew One. I kept the mash temp a little higher than we do our regular ales.”
Although it was a 90-minute boil I added first hops at 60 minutes in order to keep bitterness at a minimum and still get a vigorous boil necessary for a clean beer.”
The end result is easy drinking with 5.2 percent alcohol by volume and only 9 IBUs. It’s available on tap at the brewery’s tasting room, where you can also fill growlers and crowlers, and, while limited, may show up on tap elsewhere around town.
Dunkelweizen is a style best consumed fresh, so if you’re intrigued by German wheat ales don’t wait to try it.
— Jon Abernathy is a Bend beer blogger and brew aficionado. His column appears every other week in GO!