In the Altbier brewpubs in Düsseldorf and Münster, brewers occasionally surprise their regular patrons with a “special” version of their usual fare. The brewer gets a chance to experiment a little, change up the recipe from the everyday, and the customers get a taste of something a little different. These small-batch specials, known as “Sticke”, or “secret”, are not generally advertised outside of the pub itself, relying on word of mouth to bring in the crowds. Often a little stronger or a little hoppier, they might also contain an ingredient not usually found in the standard Altbiers.
Altbiers, along with Kölsch, are rare German ales. “Alt” , “old” in German, refers to “old-style” or even “old-fashioned” – beers brewed in a traditional manner since well before the new-fangled lagers came into popularity. Most are a deep copper color, with some intensly bitter hops in the finish, although the bitterness levels vary from brewery to brewery. They are fermented relatively warm and then cold-conditioned, making them smooth and clean-tasting.
For more information on Altbiers, their history and how to brew them, I highly recommend Horst Dornbusch’s book “Altbier” in the AHA Style Series.
5 gallons, all-grain
- 5 lbs. lager malt
- 3 lbs. dark Munich malt
- 3 lbs. 60°L crystal malt
- 1/2 lb. Vienna malt
- 1/2 lb. cara-pils malt
- 1/4 lb. melanoidin malt
- 1/8 lb. Carafa I malt
- 1 oz. Spalter hop pellets (5% aa)
- 1 oz. New Zealand Stickelbract hop pellets (14.1% aa)
- 1 oz Tettnanger hop pellets (5% aa)
- White Labs German Ale/Kölsch yeast (WLP029)
- 2/3 cup corn sugar (for priming)
Procedure: Crush grains. Heat 16 quarts water to 166°F. Mash in grains and hold 90 minutes at 155°F. Heat another 15 quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collect 32 quarts sweet wort. Bring to boil, boil 30 minutes before adding any hops. Add Spalter hops, boil 30 minutes. Add Stickelbract hops, boil another 25 minutes. Add Tettnanger hops, boil 5 more minutes (60 total with hops, 90 total overall), remove from heat. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading. Pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment warm (65°F) for eight to ten days. Rack to secondary, age cool (40 – 45°F) for two to three weeks. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and condition three to four weeks at 40 – 45°F.
Notes on style: Since this is a Sticke Alt, it is a bit darker than the usual Alt – it still has a gorgeous reddish-copper glow. Its OG and IBU levels are a fair bit higher than the average Altbier, too
Notes on hops: The Spalter and Tettnanger hops are typical German Noble hops and are perfectly at home in an Altbier. The Sticklebract hops, however, are an anomoly, added in part because of the name and in part as a memorial to the victims of the tragic earthquake in Christchurch these last couple days. My soon-to-be daughter-in-law spent a semester in New Zealand a couple years ago and has many friends affected by the disaster.
Notes on procedure: The long boil, partly without any hops, serves to caramelize and really deepen the copper color of the beer. Since this not a highly bitter beer, in general, it’s good to add the hops after some of the boil has occurred. I started with a larger volume of wort than usual and needed to boil off a fair amount.