Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Dark Thoughts Abound

Tmavé, the Czech style dark lager, has been on my mind a lot recently.

Not just because Morana is available at Devils Backbone Basecamp at the moment, I don't believe it is on at either of their other locations, Outpost in Lexington or Back Yard in Charlottesville, but hopefully it will be at some point. Also not just because I am planning to brew my own version of Morana, that I call Černý Lev (that's Black Lion for the non-Czech speakers), at some point in the nearish future as I have started doing decoction mashes with my homebrew. These two facts though are related to my pondering...but first a quick jaunt back in time, to last November.

I went back to Prague, which you probably know as I posted about some of the beers and pubs I went to, but I didn't write about every pub or even every beer I had in the pubs I did write about. While I did write about the perfect session at Hostomická Nelevarna, I didn't mention that I had a couple of half litres of Hostomice's delightful Fabián Tmavý 14°. To my mind it is one of the best dark lagers being brewed in Czechia today and certainly one of my favourites. As my group of friends and I discussed the finer points of Czech beer in general, it was mentioned that Fabián Tmavý is not a classic Czech dark lager, because the proportions of Pilsner and Munich malt are reversed.

In my homebrew version of Morana, which is basically the same other than using CaraMunich I rather than CaraBohemian, which I can't see to find in any of the online homebrew stores, the grain bill is:
  • 74% Bohemian Pilsner
  • 11% Munich
  • 11% CaraMunich I
  • 4% Carafa III Special
Initially, I was shocked at the idea of using so much Munich malt in a tmavé, but also deeply intrigued by how such a beer would turn out. I imagine it would be richer, with a deep malt character, a more intense breadiness, and would probably take an extra wallop of hops to give the balance I would expect. As I was pondering, and reading the Pivovar Hostomice description of Fabián Tmavý, a phrase jumped out at me, that I think I probably just glossed over previously, "Tmavé speciální pivo bavorského typu", which translates as "special dark beer, of the Bavarian type". The description continues...

"K výrobě tohoto speciálu bylo použito čtyř druhů sladů, což zaručuje plnou, výrazně sladovou, chuť a však bez sladkého doznívání většiny českých, tmavých, piv. Toto pivo je nečekaně výrazně chmelenoa výrazná hořkost udílí tomuto pivu nečekanou pitelnost. Tmavé pivo, které Vás překvapí."

Which translates as:

"Four types of malt were used to produce this special, which guarantees a full, distinctly malty taste, but without the sweet aftertaste of most Czech dark beers. This beer is unexpectedly very hoppy and the strong bitterness gives this beer an unexpected drinkability. A dark beer that will surprise you."

So, we still have the 4 types of malt, just with more Munich than Pilsner from what I was told, and big dose of hoppiness and bitterness to make the beer more drinkable. For reference, Morana has about 25 IBUs. I decided to create a new recipe for Černý Lev, taking into account the markers laid down by Hostomice, so here goes:
  • 70% Munich
  • 15% Bohemian Pilsner
  • 10% CaraMunich I
  • 5% Carafa III Special
  • 25 IBUs Saaz for 60 minutes
  • 13 IBUs Saaz for 30 minutes
  • 2 IBUs Saaz for 5 minutes
  • Saflager 34/70 Yeast
My aim would be to keep to 14°, as that seems to be the sweet spot of the modern tmavé, including the direct inspiration for Morana - the much missed Kout na Šumavě.

There is, however, a question that keeps pottering through my mind, and I am being vaguely cynical with this question. As I plan to get back into entering homebrew competitions this year, do I enter this particular beer in the Czech dark lager category or do I take my lead from Hostomice and enter it as a Munich Dunkel, given the phrase that this is a dark beer "of the Bavarian type"? 


  1. Have you seen the Fabián 14° recipe in Craft Beer & Brewing? They have Pilsner and Munich I at about 40% each, while the CaraMunich III is a whopping 18%. When I put together my recipe, I found that much caramel malt a bit excessive, so I reduced that to about 12%, Munich malt (Munich II in my case) is 37%, and Pilsner at 49%. With plenty of bitterness (35 IBU in my case, 41 in Fabián 14's), these higher amounts of Munich definitely seem to work nicely.

    1. I haven't seen the recipe, no. I am toying with ditching Pilsner entirely and going for a Vienna/Munich combination for the base malts - the kellerbier I have in the kegerator is a blend of those two, and I really the depth of flavour they provide.

    2. That sounds like a very interesting approach! I wonder to what extent the contribution of the Vienna malt would be noticeable in the final beer. I'd imagine at least ever so slightly more maltiness without making the beer too cloying or full-bodied.

    3. Whilst talking about Vienna malt, I am planning to do a 100% Vienna malt lager sometime this year as well, will probably hop with the Tettnang I have in the freezer.


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