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Altbier (Book Review)

Cover of Altbier: History, Brewing, Techniques, Recipes by Horst D. Dornbusch

Lagering in my basement is 25 litres of Dusseldorf Altbier – to be precise it’s an Enderlein’s Alt from pages 105-106 of Altbier: History, Brewing Techniques, Recipes by Horst D. Dornbusch (1998). Herbert Enderlein was “technical editor of the book and also the brewmaster at Brauerei Ferdinand Schumacher, the oldest altbier brewery in Dusseldorf”. That brewery opened in 1838. Needless to say I’m looking forward to my second attempt at making one of these lovely German ales fermented at low temperature and lagered for two months. There is a reason another book on this subject has not appeared since 1998 and that is simply that this one covers everything you really need to know.

Alt simply means the old style of brewing German ale; the old style before lagers arrived and took over German beer culture. In fact, it’s an ale fermented with specific yeast below normal ale temperatures and above normal lager temperatures. The beer then gets lagered at around 1-to-2 Celcius for six-to-eight weeks. And the result is a medium bodied and smooth, clear amber, malty beverage with the bittering of noble German hops. I guess you should think about buying or making one to get an idea of where that might take you as a drinker.

I love this type of beer because of it’s story and history. There is a joy in making a good old German ale (or, for that matter, a more traditional English ale, porter or stout). There is a satisfaction when you sit down with friends and drink these lovely beers that you’ve made with your deft hands and a bit of scientific know-how.

Horst D. Dornbusch spends a lot of this book outlining the ingredients, equipment and processes that go into making an authentic altbier. German grain, noble hops, more complicated mash rests that accentuate the desirable characters of the style. For example, the Enderlein’s Alt in my basement is made using 100% German Munich malt that went through a protein rest in the mash at 50-55 Celcius, then hot water was added to bring it to 62 Celcius and it was finally raised with direct heat to 72 Celcius for the duration of that mash. There was a two hour rolling boil before it was cooled and filled the fermenter. The yeast was a Whitelabs WLP036 Dusseldorf Alt Ale in a huge starter pitched at 13 Celcius, it was let to rise the next day to 15 Celcius and when it was nearly finished fermentation it was allowed to finish at 19 Celcius for several days before going in the fridge to lager.

If you’re considering making one of these beers you should pick up this book if only because it’s the recognised authority on making genuine altbier. I’ve heard much smarter more experienced brewers give this one a hat tip as the single resource to consult. At around only 100 pages of general information (before recipes and appendices) it’s also an easy read. Meanwhile, we’ll be drinking our German ale sometime in November. But I have a sneaking fear it’ll be a memory by Christmas.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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