This week we are making an Altbier. Altbier translates from German as “old beer” which is an allusion to the old style of brewing. In Germany, the “old style” was the ale and the “new style” is the lager which was invented in Bavaria in the 16th century. (Yeah I totally knew that off the top of my head. It’s ok to be impressed. I’m lying). Altbier is one of the only surviving true German Ale styles.
Altbier is usually identified with the Dusseldorf region in northern Germany which is home to the Neander Valley (or Neandertal in German). This region is one of the oldest continually inhabited regions outside of Africa. Obviously the Neanderthal people did not have the technology to brew beer, but their successors Homo Sapiens Sapiens (modern humans) sure figured it out.
After the technology of domesticated grains spread from the Middle-East to Europe, it didn’t take long for someone to figure out how to make it alcoholic. The origin of beer itself is unknown, but it probably originated somewhere around the Mediterranean or the Fertile Crescent near present day Iran 8000 years ago. Their beer probably tasted nothing like what we consider beer today. They used a variety of spices and fruits such as figs to flavor their beers and provide a source of natural yeast. The unsanitary conditions also likely contributed a healthy dose of lactobacillus making their beers very sour and pukey flavored by today’s palate.
Wherever it was invented, the modern interpretation of beer as a combination of malted barley, hops, and water is identified as a Germanic creation. Dusseldorf may well be the birthplace of the first true hopped beer which would make Altbier the oldest continually produced beer style in the world!
Sorry for the history lessen brewers, I find that stuff very fascinating and could talk about it all day, but we are here to talk about the nuts and bolts of beer!
The Altbier style guidelines call for a beer that is deep copper to light amber in color, 4.3%-5.5% alcohol, and roughly 20-52 IBU’s. It has a sweet maltiness and big mouthfeel with a well balanced hop bitterness. Altbiers are typically aged for 8-12 weeks at 55’F to help round out the flavors and ensure a smooth beer.
My version which I have dubbed “Allday Altbier” will be slightly non-traditional (don’t judge!). I’m going for a bit more of a light/crisp/thin Festbier (Oktoberfest) flavor and more than traditional hop aroma. If you want to keep yours traditional, just move the final hop addition to 30 minutes instead of 0 minutes, and replace half of the pilsner malt with munich malt, ferment cool and lager for 2 months.
My beer’s stats will be:
5 gallon batch, 7 gallon full volume BIAB 90 minute mash with no sparge and a 90 minute boil. OG 1.052, SRM 18, 45 IBU, and a high attenuation with Wyeast 1007 German ale yeast down to a FG of 1.005 giving us 6.1% ABV.
- 5 lb of Pilsner malt
- 5 lb of Munich 20L
- 0.5 lb of Caramunich
- 2 oz of Carafa II for color
- 1 oz Liberty at 90 minutes
- 1 oz Saaz at 45 minutes
- 1 oz Saaz at 0 minutes (flame out)
- Second generation German Ale Wy1007 in a big healthy 2L decanted starter (see my starter post if you’re curious about my method there)
- ~6 hours before pitching pull starter from the fridge, decant it, and allow it to warm to room temp.
- Heat 7 gallons of strike water to 158’F. I use 75% RO water dilution to reduce my carbonate content and add 1 tsp gypsum, and CaCl, 0.2 Campden tablets, and 3.2 mL of lactic acid to my water to ensure that my mash pH is on target according the Bru’n Water Calculator. A good pH meter is my next major brewing investment.
- Transfer the heated water to my preheated cooler mash tun with my brew bag already installed.
- Dough in my grains and stir thoroughly, and adjust the temperature with ice or boiling water to hit a mash temp of 150’F.
- Cover and let it sit for 90 minutes, stirring every 20 minutes and monitoring the temperature.
- Add 500 mL of fresh/sanitized/cooled 1.040 DME wort to the starter from step 1, give it a shake/swirl and put it back on the stir plate until pitching
- At the end of 90 minutes, lift the bag and squeeze it like crazy until every last drop of wort comes out.
- Transfer the wort back to my brew kettle measure my pre-boil gravity and flame on!
- When the hot-break settles add the first hop bag and start the timer for 90 minutes adding hops at 45 minutes and 0 minutes
- With 10 minutes left in the boil, put the wort chiller in to sanitize
- Flame off and start chilling at the end of the boil.
- Transfer to sanitized fermenter and top up if needed
- Measure the OG
- Pitch the 500mL starter and ferment to completion in my swamp cooler/bucket of water with a fan!
Brew Day Shenanigans
We invited people over for this brew day and it’s always fun when there’s beer, fire, people, and beer at my apartment. Did I say beer twice? Oops…
We played beer darts. If you’re not familiar, it’s a game where sharp metal tipped darts are flung carelessly toward human legs and beer. It’s not safe but it’s fun.
I do not condone the drinking of Coors beer. I would like to state for the record that I was drinking only homebrews, Alaskan Amber, and Oktoberfest during the entire brew day.
Hopefully the beer will be as good as the day was fun!