German brewing is more than lagers and wheat ales, although I’ve certainly had fun with those lately. For my latest foray, I’m exploring the world of altbiers. I’ve brewed an Americanized version of this amber-colored ale previously, with moderately good results. However, I felt like it was time to delve once more into the classic style.
I started with the book on altbier by Horst Dornbusch. This volume is part of the Classic Beer Style series from Brewers Publications–I really love them because they are compact, informative, and full of recipes. Some of the books (like the altbier one) are over 20 years old now, which does make me wish for a minor polish to reflect advances in malts and yeasts available to homebrewers nowadays. Nonetheless, the series provides a really nice way to cut straight to the point of a style.
The altbier book has nine recipes of varying grain bills and starting gravities, so I started with something of lower alcohol and straightforward composition. This recipe was Alstadt Alt (p. 100 of the book), described as being typical of the style served in Düsseldorf. The recipe clocks in at 1.048 o.g., 4.8% abv, and 40 IBU. Its grain bill is fairly simple, with 60% “two-row malt,” 15% Munich, 15% Vienna, and 10% crystal 60. This is an area where I think a modern update would be most needed, so I had to punt a bit on malt varieties. I settled on a pilsner malt (consistent with recommendations from elsewhere in the book), with light Munich, Vienna, and American crystal 60. I suspect a German crystal equivalent (maybe CaraMunich II) would also work for the latter, and might produce something truer-to-style (whatever that means).
Curiously, my initial formulation came a bit short of the color in the book’s recipe, at 10 SRM vs. 18 SRM. As I played around in BeerSmith, substituting Munich II for Munich I barely kicked up the color (maybe by 0.5 SRM), and same for substituting in American 2-row for the pilsner malt. I have no idea why this is; perhaps a calculation error by the author? So, I added a touch of Carafa Special III to bring the color more closely to style (14 SRM). This is still a tiny bit lighter than the original recipe (18 SRM), but I thought would be just fine.
In any case, this was a fun batch to brew and a fun style to drink. I’ll be making more altbiers in the future!
- 6.25 lb. Superior Pilsen malt (Great Western)
- 1.75 lb. Munich I malt (Weyermann)
- 1.75 lb. Vienna malt (Great Western)
- 1.25 lb. Crystal 60 malt (Great Western)
- 2 oz. Carafa Special III
- 0.75 oz. Magnum hop pellets (13.2% alpha), 60 minute boil
- 0.5 oz. Mt. Hood hop pellets (4.6% alpha), 5 minute boil
- 1 tsp. Fermax, 10 minute boil
- 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minute boil
- 1 pkg. German Ale/Kolsch yeast (White Labs WLP029), repitched slurry from my kölsch
- 60 minute infusion mash, 152°, batch sparge
- 1.049 o.g., 1.011 f.g., 5.0% abv, 34 IBU, 14 SRM
- Claremont tap water
- I mashed in with 3.75 gallons at 162°, to hit a mash temperature of 151°. It was down to 149° after 30 minutes.
- After a 60 minute mash, I added 1.3 gallons of water at 185°, let sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected first runnings.
- Next, I added 3.75 gallons of water at 185°, let it sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the second runnings.
- In total, I collected 7.1 gallons of runnings with a gravity of 1.039, for 68% efficiency. This was a touch lower than expected, but we’ll just roll with it!
- I brought the kettle to a boil, boiling for 60 minutes and adding hops and finings per the schedule.
- After 60 minutes, I chilled down to 75°, transferred to the fermenter, and chilled down to 65° in the fermentation chamber.
- Once the wort was at temperature, I pitched a slurry of yeast I had saved from my kölsch-style ale. Fermentation kicked off pretty quickly.
- I brewed the beer on 9 May 2020, and it had a starting gravity of 1.047.
- Fermentation was at 65° for around the first two weeks, and then I pulled it out to ambient for the rest of the fermentation.
- I kegged the beer on 11 June 2020, adding 2.9 oz. of corn sugar in 1 cup of water. I had nearly a full keg, which was nice.
- Final gravity was 1.012, for 4.6% abv.
- I kept the keg at 66° until 20 June 2020, when I put it into the lagering chamber to cold crash at 33°. I also hooked it up to CO2 gas directly, to finish out carbonation to the desired level (~2.6 volumes of CO2).
- As expected for the German ale yeasts, flocculation was pretty minimal, so on 22 June 2020, I added 1/2 tsp. of gelatin dissolved in 1/2 cup of water and held at 150° to pasteurize. In other circumstances, I might have been more patient, but I had a tap open up on my keezer, and wanted to fill the space!
- Deep copper in color and clear, with an ivory-colored and relatively persistent head. The head starts pretty tall, but settles to a thin blanket as the beer warms up.
- Lightly bready aroma, slightly crusty, with a touch of caramel; maybe a hint of hop spice, but the aroma is decidely on the malty side. I don’t really pick up anything in the realm of yeast character.
- Bready malt character, very nice; moderate and firm bitterness, but the balance of the beer is nicely balanced between malt and hop (maybe slightly tilted towards the hoppy side). The beer is surprisingly light and quaffable. Hop character is pretty clean, with a spicy character. The finish is smooth, with an extended yet pleasant bitterness.
- Moderately light body, moderate carbonation; finish is moderately dry but not overly so. This beer drinks very smoothly, especially as it has conditioned.
- Would I brew this again?
- This is a nice recipe…I’d definitely give it a try again! I would like to try it with an all-German grain bill, especially to substitute in CaraMunich II for the crystal 60. I like that this beer has plenty of malt character, without being cloying. It’s a pretty solidly drinkable summer amber beer. My perceptions of the beer match up partially with how it is described in the recipe. The beer is described as medium-coppper in color, and I perceive mine as a deep copper (there is no way their color value of 18 SRM isn’t amber!). Hop character is maybe a bit lower on mine (I don’t perceive much, and the recipe is described as having “a light hoppy nose”). In terms of the BJCP guidelines, it hit those pretty darned well. It could maybe have a touch more hop character in the aroma, but there is very little I would change about this beer otherwise. It’s a winner!