Craft Cans

Classic Beer of the Month January 2011: Kaltenberg König Ludwig Dunkel.

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Kaltenberg König Ludwig Dunkel, 5.1% (Germany)

Once upon a time there was a handsome prince named Luitpold. He lived in a magnificent castle close to the foothills of the Alps.

Kaltenberg DunkelWithin the castle was a brewery, once a very successful business belonging to the Royal family of Bavaria but now struggling to compete in an increasingly busy market place.

The time was the 1970s. When Luitpold’s father handed control of the brewery to his son, important decisions needed to be made to take the business forward. Luitpold scratched his head and decided not to compete head to head with his rivals but to find a niche he could exploit to make the brewery successful once again.

Within the castle walls of the Kaltenberg brewery, Luitpold set to work to find a special beer that could turn around the company’s fortunes.

Long gone were the days when his great-grandfather was King of Bavaria, and there was only so much business to be gained from trading on the erstwhile royal connections. He needed a right royal beer in character as well as in name.

The inspiration came from 50 years earlier, when dark lager was all the rage in this part of southern Germany. It faded away when breweries began switching to fashionable golden lagers, but Luitpold felt that Kaltenberg could offer something different by turning back the clock.

He returned to the recipe books and came up with a rich, ruby-coloured beer that stood out from the crowd. Taking local pale and roasted malts, seasoning the wort with Hallertauer hops from Bavarian fields, and allowing the beer a long, lazy maturation, Luitpold and his brewers presented to the world König Ludwig Dunkel.

Proving that not everyone in the world wants to drink pale beers, despite what the marketing men who run the world’s biggest breweries insist, Kaltenburg saw sales of the new beer take hold.

From that starting position 30-odd years ago, König Ludwig has risen to account for around half of all the dark lager sold in Bavaria, and is available in bottle around the world.

The beer is still brewed in the historic castle at Geltendorf, 30 miles west of Munich, even though the expansion of Kaltenberg in Luitpold’s hands has seen modernisation of a second, larger brewery – which specialises in weissbier production – at Fürstenfeldbruck, 12 miles to the north.

Refreshing and Tasty

Wherever you travel in Bavaria, you’re never far from a glass of this refreshing but supremely tasty beer that opens with a welcoming aroma, suggestive of treacle and raisin.

Treacle toffee in the sweet taste is quickly countered by a smack of hops and bitterness from the dark grains. Faint raisin notes hover in the background, leaving the beer smooth and rich but never heavy.

Hops emerge more in the drying aftertaste, once treacly malt starts to fade, and the herbal notes they bring ensure it’s a bitter, but fresh finish.

While you’re enjoying your glass of satisfying dunkel, back at the fairy tale castle the handsome prince continues to supervise the family brewing business. He has turned the enterprise around.

The dark days were banished when the dark beer arrived, and at Kaltenberg, you could say, they all lived happily ever after.

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