Beer 101: What is Altbier and where to find a great one

There are certain facts when it comes to loving beer. First, you’re never going to drink it all. Second, you’re never going to know it all.

Recently, I saw a post on Facebook by one of our fine St. Louis area brewers about a style of beer I am not that familiar with, Altbier. Alt (meaning old), is what the Germans would call the beers made before lager yeast was used in Germany. It’s a German amber ale traditionally made in the Dusseldorf area of Germany. Traditionally, Dusseldorf Altbier is generally hoppy, features either Spalt hops or Noble hops and is brewed with special ale yeasts fermented at cool ale temperatures (60-65 F).

Where to find a great Altbier

Not surprisingly, one of the finest Altbiers in our area is brewed at Stubborn German Brewing Company in Waterloo, Illinois.

“We make ours the same way we make all our German beers – with the best German barley malt, German hops, a German yeast strain,” said Stubborn’s Chris Rahn. “We make our own reverse osmosis water and each beer gets its own minerals added back into it in order to mimic the water of the region in Germany that the beer is originally from.”

Stubborn’s Altbier has a rich malty flavor profile that reminds you of toast and bread crusts. It also has a pronounced hop bitterness to provide balance to that rich barley malt. The yeast used in this beer gives a slight fruity character that adds complexity to the beer.

There honestly aren’t a lot of other breweries out there making Altbier. Only 3 or 4 other breweries in the St. Louis area brew one. So the fact that Stubborn makes it all year round makes it pretty unique.

“It isn’t a very well known style so it’s not one of our more popular sellers, but it does have quite a few very loyal drinkers. We brewed it because I love Altbier! That’s also what inspired me to brew it,” said Rahn. “We can always tell a real beer fan when they come up to the bar and order Altbier. It’s a beer lover’s beer. A big craft beer fan knows the style well and appreciates seeing it on our menu.”

The Beerography

Rahn re-wrote this recipe with the guidance of Jerry Mitchell, an amazingly talented homebrewer who travels to Dusseldorf every few years and brought back a few fresh samples.

“We decided the beer I was calling Altbier wasn’t really all that close to the Altbiers in Germany. I couldn’t have that, so we went through a couple of changes on it to make it closer to the real thing and I’m super proud of the version we have on tap now.”

Tasting Notes:
On the pour, Altbier will appear copper in color, crystal clear, huge, creamy, off-white foam head.

On the nose, the aroma is rich and malty. Toasty, bread, bread crusts are brought to mind along with a slightly red-apple like fruit aroma. The hops offer a moderate spicy, herbal tone that adds complexity to the aroma.

On the tongue, it’s similar to the aroma. Toasty, bready malt dominates along with a sweet pilsner malt crackery flavor. The hops are again, spicy and herbal, and the bitterness is pronounced. The yeast gives off a fruity ester note of red apples. The finish is dry and makes you want another drink!

Stubborn German Brewing believes that if you’re in their German-themed beer hall in their German-rooted city of Waterloo, Illinois and if you are drinking one of their biers it makes you feel like you’re in Germany drinking a bier!

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