We, the Average Joes at ACB, may not have full-time jobs brewing, selling or judging beer, yet if you knew just how AWESOME some of our real jobs are, you’d better understand why we spend so much of our free time drinking beer. It all goes to show that we take our research quite seriously and wish to impart the wisdom we’ve stumbled upon, in the hopes of making your free time as rich as ours.
Without further ado, let’s drink in yet another chapter in our series, “What the Hell is an Altbier?”
Once again the wheel of beer styles sends us back to the fertile grounds of historic Germany. The Altbier or Alt style is a unique animal that, unbeknownst to many, exists in two different styles. Classified by the BJCP as an “Amber Hybrid,” the home of Altbier is undeniably the Westphalian town of Düsseldorf in the Lower Rhine Region.
The Düsseldorf Altbier style is generally hoppier, featuring either Spalt hops or Noble hops and is traditionally crafted with special ale yeasts fermented at cool ale temperatures (60-65 F). The name Alt, the German word for old, can either refer to the old style of brewing ales before the isolation of bottom-fermenting yeasts or the longer aging time needed to cold ferment ale yeasts. So it looks like an ale, features ale yeast and hopped like an ale, but is fermented at cooler temps like a lager. Confused yet?
The Northern German Altbier, the style more commonly found outside of Düsseldorf, is in many ways more easily understood. Here we find little to no hop aroma from Noble hops, fermentation is done with lager or ale yeasts and much like it’s Düsseldorf brother, brewed with a base malt of Pils and small amounts of Munich, roasted and/or darker malts.
Both versions of the Altbier weigh in at 4.5 to 5.2% ABV so it’s sessionable, unless it’s the bigger Sticke (pronounced shtick-uh – German for secret) or Double Alt variety. While some Altbiers are only made in the winter and spring months, many are made year-round due to its moderate qualities. In all, the Altbier style is a great entry level style for Americans new to the craft beer world and for those looking for an easy drinking, light ale.
Altbiers We Like and You Might Want to Try:
Alaskan Brewing, Amber Ale (Juneau, AK) – While the name is deceiving, it’s identified as an “Alt Style Beer” on it’s label, this tasty, straight ahead ale is identified by the brewer as being alt due to it needing to “ferment more slowly and colder temperatures than most ales,” causing an aged or older beer. It’s a clean easy drinker and we consider it among our favorites. 5.3% ABV 18 IBU.
Double Bag, Long Trail Brewing (Bridgewaters Corners, VT) – This big “Stickebier” comes in at 7.2% ABV yet an IBU of only 39, making this a big malt bomb with quite a following in the Northeast. This strong ale has all the easy drinking, biscuit and caramel flavors you’d expect from an Alt, yet kicked up to the next level.
OMB Copper, Olde Mecklenburg Brewery (Charlotte, NC) – Considered by many to be the best Altbier in America, it’s also one of the few to distinguish itself as being made in the “authentic Düsseldorf style.” Their flagship beer is made with top-fermenting yeast, noble Bavarian hops and clocks in at 4.8% ABV, 31 IBU.
Like anything taken from the old world and recreated on America’s shores, the Altbier style offers a fine re-creation of an authentic style. We love Alts because they offer a lighter fare, with a heavier mouthfeel and a more subtle hop presence. It’s a great break from the norm and a fine way to transition from darker winter warmers into lighter spring styles.