German for “old” or “aged” beer, Altbier originated in Düsseldorf, Germany, and is akin to the Kölsch-style beers from nearby Köln (Cologne). The Düsseldorf Altbier style evolved from northern German ales that were brewed from the 13th to 17th centuries. Altbier is brewed using a warm-fermenting ale yeast, then traditionally cold-conditioned for several weeks – but not as cold as lager conditioning. Pale malts, along with Vienna or other specialty malts, give the beer its amber to copper color, with roasted malts often used as well. Herbal, earthy hop bitterness nicely balances the overall flavor of rich malts with caramel, toffee and dark fruit notes. The long, cold conditioning moderates fruity yeast esters and brings smoothness to the mouth-feel, resulting in a very flavorful, yet usually crisp, clean character with a dry finish. Two Düsseldorf breweries produce a stronger Altbier, called Sticke (local jargon for “secret”), that expresses a bolder malt and hop flavor, heavier body and 6 percent ABV – higher than the classic Altbier’s 4.7 percent ABV – yet remains very balanced. Brewed only twice a year, Sticke Alt quantities are limited. Düsseldorf’s Uerige brewery also brews a Doppelsticke (double sticke) for the U.S. market, which is stronger still at 8.5 percent ABV. (Uerige’s Stickum bar in Düsseldorf may carry some of these rare brews.) While few German Altbiers make it to the United States, several American craft brews in the Altbier style are available in regional markets.
Characteristics: Malty, caramel, toasty, earthy, medium-bodied
ABV range: 4.2-5.5% IBU: 25-50
Popular Altbier brands: Uerige Altbier, Uerige DoppelSticke, Pinkus Organic Münster Alt, Alaskan Amber, Long Trail Ale, Otter Creek Copper Ale, Fordham Copperhead Ale
Serving Temperature: Cool, 46-54°
Cheese Pairing Ideas: Asiago, Camembert, Cheshire, aged Gouda, Emmental, Gruyère
Food Pairing Ideas: Smoked sausage, pork, grilled salmon