Located in Michigan’s “Little Bavaria,” a Disneyland-style tourist mecca for the silver-haired crowd in northern southeast Michigan, Frankenmuth Brewery dates back to 1862 in various incarnations and under various ownership groups. The site has been destroyed and rebuilt several times, including a fire in 1987 and the infamous tornado in 1996. At the time, it was one of the nation’s oldest Privat Brauerei, selling nearly 30,000 barrels per year in 25 states, with a collection of pseudo-German beers, including a flagship Dunkel that would be somewhat akin to a Huber Bock, Shiner Bock or Michelob Bock—that is to say, non-Reinheitsgebot. Regardless, it was pretty good stuff for its time and often readily available.
Since the tornado destroyed the facility, there have been a number of attempts to reopen, restart and rebuild the place, including a contracting effort with the old Evansville Brewing Company, a short-lived brewpub (which could not distribute), and an effort by renowned American Weihenstephan Diplom-Braumeister Eric Warner, later of Flying Dog Brewery, who wrote the Classic Beer Style Series German Wheat Beer in 1992.
Last year, the place finally reopened as a microbrewery (which means they can distribute under Michigan law) concentrating on German beers. In my view, this is a welcome change from most craft brewers, who pretty much focus on ales, usually English style or occasionally Belgian.
I had a chance to taste a few of their brews at the Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival in February, which were all very good. Yesterday, I had a chance to sit down with a full pint of Munich Dunkel, the lager style that “made Munich famous.”
Dark in color, it looks like any other porter or stout but with a cleaner aroma and mouth feel and a little less body that one would expect to find in a typical ale. It has a nice soft chocolate nose and drinks rather easy. There’s a light Hallertau hop presence to clean up the maltiness. Stylistically, its actually a little thicker than a typical dunkel would be, but this may be due to a bump in the chocolate malt to compensate for North American six row grains.
For me, this is actually a very nice session beer and my bias would rate this a little higher personally than I would for the average geek, because this is one of my favorite styles. That said, while very good, it’s not a perfect effort and probably not as good as the original Atwater Dunkel, back when they were importing grains in 1997-98 under their original brewmaster.
Sauber… or solid mugs for you Anglos.