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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Alt is German for "old", and these beers are of a style older than the lagered beers, a remnant of the time before lager was invented. Altbier is top fermented then cold lagered for a few weeks. Altbiers are copper-bronze in colour and mostly brewed around Düsseldorf. Altbier is the closest Germany gets to the style of a British bitter but the lagering period gives them a quite different character. The best English bitters are cask-conditioned or bottle-conditioned but Germany does not have the tradition of cask-conditioning ales so Altbiers are not cask-conditioned and, when bottled, are not bottle-conditioned. Generally around 4.8abv, mildly fruity, with a typically dry finish, there is more hop bitterness here than in most German beers. A good sessional drink, and goes well with cheese. Source: German Beer Guide

A little history from

The Bavarian Reinheitsgebot (beer purity law; literally "purity order") of 1516 was drawn up to ensure the production of decent-quality beer; however, this decree did not affect brewers of the Rhineland. As such, the brewing traditions in this region developed slightly differently. For example, brewing during the summer was illegal in Bavaria, but the cooler climate of the Rhineland allowed Alt brewers to brew all year long and to experiment with storing fermented beer in cool caves and cellars.

The name "altbier" first appeared in the 1800s to differentiate the beers of Düsseldorf from the new pale lager that was gaining a hold on Germany. Brewers in Düsseldorf used the pale malts that were used for the modern pale lagers, but retained the old ("alt") method of using warm fermenting yeasts.
The first brewery to use the name Alt was Schumacher which opened in 1838. The founder, Mathias Schumacher, allowed the pale ale to mature in cool conditions in wooden casks for longer than normal, and laid the foundation for the modern alt beer - an amber coloured, lagered ale. The result is a pale ale that has some of the lean, dryness of a lager, with the fruity notes of an ale.

I have tried a few locally brewed Altbiers and have found them to be quite tasty. For a recipe on how to make an Altbier, try this one: German Altbier.

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