Think Czech lager.
Ok, do you have an image in your head of Czech lager? Let me guess, it is golden, topped with a frothy white head (which, if well made and poured, can support the weight of a small coin), the nose is grassy, lightly lemony, all the things you expect from Saaz, the taste is bready and malty and when you get a great example of Czech beer you wonder why anyone would ever drink anything else. That is Czech lager, yes? The vast majority of the time you'd be right, but for the 5% of beer production in the Czech Republic devoted to the dark arts, to tmavý, or černý, ležák (dark or black respectively). Legally speaking the only official name for a dark lager in the Czech Republic is tmavý, and thus that is the term I will use.
According to Czech tradition, or at least the things I was told by Czech men in pubs when I first moved to Prague back in the 20th Century, tmavý is beer for women, specifically beer to give women bigger breasts. What they neglected to mention was that the dark lagers of the Czech Republic are a whole different world from the Pilsner inspired golden lagers, and so it was only in my last few years in the city that I got a taste for them.
When I went down to Devils Backbone to help brew their recreation of the 1842 Pilsner recipe, Jason and I discussed at length Czech beer, and came back again and again to tmavý and how it differs from the German dark lagers, dunkels and schwarzbier. We came to the conclusion that it would be an interesting project to brew a tmavý and so we set about finding as much information as we could. Emails were sent to various Czech brewers, websites were read in various languages, style guidelines were consulted, though not in the obvious places - certain websites are of the opinion that a Czech tmavý is either a dunkel or a schwarzbier. Why then do I maintain that tmavý should have it's own style? Simply because the history of dark lager in Bohemia is very different from that of Bavaria, where dark lagers preceded pale lagers by a few centuries, in Bohemia, however what became dark lager was dark ale until the 1890s - you could then argue, if you so wish, that tmavý is in reality more closely related to porter than dunkel or schwarzbier. Indeed, the iconic, and distinctly stouty dark lager from U Fleků is known to have been warm fermented until that era.
Having garnered the relevant information, got the necessary malts and hops, scheduled a time which worked for all involved, we got together on Saturday to brew. Taking part in the brewday on Saturday was myself obviously, Jason and Aaron from Devil's Backbone, Lyle Brown of Battlefield Brewery in Fredericksburg and Nathan Zeender, a journalist from DC, whose article in Brew Your Own magazine about kvass was fascinating.
We used floor malted Bohemian pilsner malt, Munich malt, CaraBohemian malt and Carafa II special malt in the grist, and only Saaz hops in the boil, to achieve about 25IBUs, the yeast is Jason's prefered Augustiner lager yeast, and the brewery's incredibly soft well water. Because we wanted to be as traditional and authentic as possible, we did a double decoction mash. When everything was done, which took about 8 hours, we had, in the fermenter, 11 hectolitres of 14º tmavý speciál - that's 1100 litres or about 290 gallons. The beer will ferment for about 8 or 9 days and be lagered until, at the earliest, February 1st 2011, though ideally we would like to do 2 months worth of lagering.
For naming this beer, I suggested, and Jason agreed, that we use the name of an ancient Slavic goddess, Morana, the goddess of winter and death, who goes under several other names as well, but Morana was the one I liked best. Traditionally when Spring comes, an effigy of Morana is burnt to celebrate the end of winter, and given the timing of the beer being released, it is kind of fitting that a beer dedicated to her would be available during the last throes of winter.