What is Altbier?

If you’re a beer lover and have been trying out different beer varieties for a while now, you may have already come across the German beer variety – Altbier. If you haven’t, we strongly recommend that you give it a try.

The name Altbier means old beer. The brewing method used in making Altbier is a pre-lager brewing method that consists of using warm top-fermenting yeast. Pilsners on the other hand use a bottom-fermenting yeast method.

The pre-lager brewing methods usually resulted in dark, cloudy and bitter beer that wasn’t really favorable to be drunk. That’s why many of the breweries would store the beer for longer periods of time using lager storing methods (i.e. in caves and cellars). This would result in a much cleaner and crisper beer.

History of Altbier

Knowing the history of a specific beer variety you’re drinking allows you to flaunt your knowledge to your friends. So pay close attention to this section.

Altbier is considered by many to be an ancient beer variety. Actually it isn’t that old. It’s less than 200 years old.

Breweries had begun producing the pilsner and other lager beer varieties in the 12th century. Back then, beer production was only restricted to monasteries. Slowly beer consumption among the general public began to increase and many breweries cropped up.

But there was no generic standard or quality maintained. The quality began to differ and it sparked public agitation. The Government had to do something.

That’s when the beer purity law i.e. Bavarian Reinheitsgebot came into play (in 1516). The beer purity law made it illegal to brew beer during the summer in Bavaria.

Rhineland which is the home to Altbier wasn’t affected by this law because the conditions were favorable for brewing throughout the year. The all year round cooler climates enabled brewers in Rhineland to experiment different formulations and varieties. The beers were fermented and stored in cool caves and cellars.

And finally in 1838, Schumacher (a brewery) began to use the name Alt for its beer. Just like lager, alt is somewhat dry in taste along with some fruity notes.

Varieties of Alt

Altbier is not restricted to Germany alone. There are many countries close to Germany that have their own varieties of Altbier as well.

Austria, Switzerland, Netherlands, United States and New Zealand have their own varieties of Altbier as well. The German ones are stronger in terms of ABV concentration when compared to their counterparts in other parts of the world.

There is a specific variation called Sticke which is a stronger version of Altbier and is primarily brewed in Germany. The beer is a lot of more hoppy and maltier than the regular beers.

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