Altbier (German for ‘old beer’) is a style of beer that is brewed in Rhineland, particularly around Düsseldorf. The name is derived from altbier being top-fermented, which is an older method. Most altbiers are around 5% ABV, but there are variations, such as doppelsticke, which tend to be stronger. Altbier is a real German joy, although small quantities are brewed beyond German borders. Find a host of altbier delights at Beers of Europe.
Altbier tends to be a dark copper shade. Fermentation takes place at a cooler temperature the most other ales, and it employs an ale yeast that that usually works best above temperatures frequently used for lager. Maturation takes places at a cooler temperature and this leads to a flavour that is similar to a lager, rather than what you would expect from a top-fermented ale. The altbier could be thought of as a bit of a lager/ale hybrid!
The unusual approach to the brewing process means altbier has a nutty, rich and bread-like malt character. These are full-bodied beers, typically clean and crisp, and frequently having peppery and subtle fruit notes. An altbier is traditionally served in a tall, straight glass.
A number of the altbier breweries traditionally create a stronger version, known as sticke alt, which means ‘secret’ in the local dialect. The brewers would make this as a special reserve intended for their personal consumption. This has become a seasonal or special occasion brew and is usually darker in colour and stronger in both taste and alcohol content than the usual altbier. Look out for Christmas versions.
There is a long standing regional rivalry between the altbier enthusiasts of Düsseldorf and those of the Kölsch beer, which is brewed in the Cologne area of Germany.