"I'm shocked there aren't more reviews here. Sure it's not a trendy new IPA or anything, but this beer is just plain good. Distinctly German. It's very crisp, dry, and light taste for it's color. Very slight caramel. This has an easy recipe, quick turn around time, and low cost. The ONLY drawback is it's a session beer that you can drink by the liter (or 2), so it doesn't last long." - Fal
Altbier is a copper-coloured, cool-fermented and lagered ale, making it somewhat of a hybrid between ales and lagers. The beer style is clean-tasting, with an aromatic hop presence, some bitterness, a firm creamy head, a medium body, and a dry finish. Flavourwise if you think of it as a California Common or steam beer made using all German ingredients, you'd be on the right track. It is one of only a handful of traditional German ales.
It is quite common that we can pinpoint a beer style to a place of origin. For example, London gave us Porter; Dublin, the Stout; Burton, the IPA; Cologne, the Kolsch. Altbier is such a special beer style that can be traced back to Dusseldorf, the capital city of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (a loosely defined area of Western Germany along the Rhine River, near the Dutch border).
In German, "Alt" means "old" - a reference to the old style of brewing, before lager existed. The modern Altbier acquired its name only in the 1800s, when this Dusseldorf original became threatened by the "new" lager beers of Bavaria and Bohemia. Before that time, in Dusseldorf, Altbier was simply called "bier".
Dusseldorf ranks among the oldest inhabited places on the globe. Neanderthal, which gave the Neanderthal man his name, is a suburb of Dusseldorf. While it is unlikely that Neanderthal man ever made beer, it is believed that Celtic and Germanic tribes from approximately 3000 years ago started brewing ales from wild grains in the region. Because Altbier has evolved from these primitive tribal roots, it is arguably one of the oldest continuously brewed beer style in the world.
200+ pubs crowded together in less than one square mile of Dusseldorf's Altstadt (old town) to make up what's known as the longest bar in the world. Image (c) independent.co.uk
In spite of its ancient lineage, Altbier is considered a modern brew, sipped by Dusseldorfers in the city's many ancient brewpubs and modern bars. In the city's Altstadt (old town), almost every house, many of which date from the 13th to the 17th centuries, contains a pub. There are more than 200 of them crowded together in an area less than one mile square. With its cobble-stoned lanes, it is known affectionately as the longest bar in the world, and it is there that you can find four of the eight Dusseldorf pubs that brew Altbier on premise: Uerige, Füchschen, Zum Schlüssel and Kürzer. All of these pubs brew and serve just the one kind of beer so there's never any question as to what to drink.
Dusseldorf Altbier is served straight from wooden casks that are rolled out from the cellar by foot and then tapped and poured on-premise using a simple faucet:
Dispensing is then usually done without CO2, by gravity alone as shown in this video from Uerige public house:
Similar to Kolsch, once you have been served an Altbier, the coaster under the glass serves as a tally for the number of beers consumed. The only way to stop your glass from being replaced is to place the coaster on top of the glass, which tells the waiter that you are done. The waiters carry revolving trays of Altbier while collecting empty glasses on the fly. The waiters will occasionally pause to enjoy an Altbier at the customer’s expense, usually finishing it in one or two gulps.
Altbier is typically served in tall cylindrical 0.2 litre (~6 oz) 'becher' glasses which are similar to Kolsch 'stange' glasses, although slightly shorter and fatter. The idea behind the small glass is that the beer stays fresh and cold as it doesn't sit around for long.
Cleaning glasses at Uerige public house. Image (c) chiller-wine.blogspot.ca
Empty kegs of Uerige Altbier. Image (c) Image (c) uerige.de
In the mid 20th century, there were around 100 Altbier breweries while today less than ten remain. Today in Germany Altbier has a small market share between two and three percent, but on its home turf in Dusseldorf, just about every other beer consumed is an Altbier. In the United States Altbier has become quite popular as a brewpub special.
The 2008 version of the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) recognized two distinct styles of Altbier: The slightly more bitter Dusseldorf Altbier shown here and the Northern German Altbier. The Northern version is slightly maltier and less bitter, but the differences can be subtle as the styles have considerable overlap. The newest 2015 version of the BJCP actually combines the two into one general "Altbier" style.
Uerige Altbier and rotisserie roasted pork on a crusty roll - yum! Image (c) havebeer.blogspot.ca
A classic Dusseldorf Altbier should exhibit clean, yet subtly complex, German malt and noble hop aromas. While the malt bill and hop schedule are reasonably straightforward, it's important to use good quality fresh ingredients, such as Weyermann malt (our preference for German malts).
No cooked corn (dimethyl sulfide) or butterscotch (diacetyl) should be detected. Amber to very light brown colour is typical, along with brilliant clarity and an enduring head. In regard to flavour, a crisp, moderate, German malt character should balance substantial hop bitterness (35-50 IBUs) and light to moderate noble hop flavour. Slight fruity esters from the ale yeast may persist in some examples, along with light/medium body and moderate carbonation. Original gravities of 1.046 to 1.054 are typical, and final alcohol percentages fall within 4.3 to 5.5 ABV.
Dusseldorf's climate is similar to that of Britain. It rarely gets very hot or very cold, ideal for ale making. Altbiers are fermented with a specialty ale yeast between 55-65F. This yeast is critical to brewing an authentic Dusseldorf Altbier: It has to be either Wyeast 1007 German Ale or White Labs WLP036 Dusseldorf Alt, both of which are reported to have been source directly from the Uerige brewery in Dusseldorf. While you can make a great clean tasting beer using other yeasts (such as Fermentis Safale US-05), it just won't have the same flavour and aroma as a true Dusseldorf Altbier. Try a split batch yourself and see the difference the yeast makes.
Brew up a batch and let us know how you like it!
Size: 12 US gallons (post-boil @ 68F)
Mash Efficiency: 95%
Calories: 168 kcal per 12 fl oz
Original Gravity: 1.050 (style range: 1.046 - 1.054)
Terminal Gravity: 1.013 (style range: 1.010 - 1.015)
Colour: 14.6 SRM (style range: 11 - 17)
Alcohol: 4.9% ABV (style range: 4.5% - 5.2%)
Bitterness: 47 IBU (style range: 35 - 50)
11.9 lb German Pilsner Malt (1.5-2.1L) (68.3%)
3 lb Dark Munich Malt (9L) (17.2%)
1.5 lb Aromatic Malt (20L) (8.6%)
12 oz Weyermann CaraMunich Type III malt (57L) (4.3%)
4.5 oz Weyermann Carafa II Special Malt (430L) (1.6%)
1.75 oz Magnum Hops (14.8%) - added during boil, boiled 60 min [44.1 IBU]
1 oz German Tettnanger Hops (3.6%) - added during boil, boiled 15 min [3 IBU]
1 Whirlfloc Tablet (Irish moss) - added during boil, boiled 15 min
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Notes / Process
- Add 500mg potassium metabisulphite to 20 gallons water to remove chlorine / chloramine (if required).
- Water treated with brewing salts to our Balanced flavour profile: Ca=50, Mg=10, Na=16, Cl=70, SO4=70. (Hit minimums on Ca and Mg, keep the Cl:SO4 ratio low and equal. Do not favour flavour / maltiness or bitterness / dryness. For balanced beers.). For complete details on how to adjust your water, refer to our step by step Water Adjustment guide.
- 1.25 qt/lb mash thickness.
- Single infusion mash at 149F for 90-120 mins.
- Raise to 168F mashout temperature and hold for 10 mins.
- ~90 min fly sparge with ~5.6-5.8 pH water (measured at mash temperature). Collect 14.9 gallons.
- Boil for 90 minutes, adding Whirlfloc and hops per schedule. Lid on at flameout, start chilling immediately.
- Cool the wort quickly to 58F (we use a one-pass convoluted counterflow chiller to quickly lock in hop flavour and aroma) and transfer to fermenter.
- Aerate well. Pure oxygen from a tank may be used at a rate of 1 litre per minute for 120 seconds per 5 gallons.
- Pitch yeast and ferment at 60F (wort temperature). We use modified stainless fermenting buckets in wine fridges.
- Ferment until approximately 5 points from final gravity and then raise the temperature to 70-72F until finished. In our case we simply turn off the fermenting fridges and allow the beer to naturally rise to room temperature. Assume fermentation is done if the gravity does not change over ~3 days.
- Rack to a brite tank (we use 5 gallon glass carboys) that has been purged with CO2 to avoid oxygen pickup, add 1 tsp of unflavoured gelatin dissolved in a cup of hot distilled water per 5 gallons of beer, and allow to clear for 2-3 days.
- Package as you would normally. We rack to kegs that have first been purged with CO2. We chill the kegs to near freezing while carbonating at the same time in a 6-keg conditioning fridge. After ~1-2 weeks at serving pressure the kegs will be carbonated and ready to serve. In a hurry? Feel free to raise the CO2 pressure temporarily to 30-40 PSI to carbonate fast over a 24 period, and then turn back down to serving pressure.
- Carbonate this beer to around 2.5 volumes of CO2.
- The beer will improve greatly if conditioned just above freezing for 4 weeks before serving (6-8 weeks is even better). Avoid keeping the beer unrefrigerated for extended periods. It will remain clean and crisp for months if kept near freezing.
For detailed brewing instructions, see our Brew Day Step by Step guide.
Questions? Visit our Dusseldorf Altbier forum thread.
Pictures / Videos
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A last minute #brew. This time it's a #Düsseldorf #Altbier (a malty/hoppy 'pseudo' lager). Filling up the #HLT. TheElectricBrewery.com ... A step by step guide to building your own brewery #TheElectricBrewery #electricbrewery #electricbrewing #homebrewing #homebrew #brewing #craftbeer #homebrewporn
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50 pounds of #hops that will eventually be turned into #beer. (Had to do some digging in the hop freezer to find the ones I needed for tomorrow's brew day. Evidently I don't use Magnum very often!) TheElectricBrewery.com ... A step by step guide to building your own brewery #TheElectricBrewery #electricbrewery #electricbrewing #homebrewing #homebrew #brewing #craftbeer #homebrewporn
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30 mins into fly #sparging this #Düsseldorf #Altbier (a malty/hoppy 'pseudo' lager). TheElectricBrewery.com ... A step by step guide to building your own brewery #TheElectricBrewery #electricbrewery #electricbrewing #homebrewing #homebrew #brewing #craftbeer #homebrewporn