The altbier is the official bier of Düsseldorf. From what I've read, the volk there are quite proud of the city's standard-bearer and a good way to get a Teutonic smackdown is to wander into a local tavern and order a Kölsch. I have never been there and my memory comports with that of a commenter
who says that no alts from Düsseldorf have been seen in Madison for ages. The moral of this story is that, when it comes to judging domestic altbiers on their conformity to the “real” thing, I am not your man.
Altbiers don't seem to get a lot of love here in Wisconsin, as near as I can tell. Tyranena brews one as does BluCreek. New Glarus and Rush River both had limited release alts that were more like stickes, i.e. - a bigger, stronger altbier. And that's about it as far as breweries that bottle go. (Any others that I have missed?)
At the risk of pissing off sticklers for style, I'll say that altbiers are a hybrid in that they are brewed with top-fermenting yeast but are cold conditioned. They're a brown ale on one hand and a lager on the other.
Metropolitan Brewing in Chicago brews German-style biers and their latest annual is Iron Works Alt
Iron Works pours a deep copper color and you get a fairly substantial head that lingers. It being winter, my nose is often stuffy so I wasn't able to an optimal whiff but the aroma was of caramel along – almost fruity - with a grassy hop scent to boot.
Unlike other domestic altbiers that I've had, this stuff has a comparatively light body. BluCreek's version is a good example of one that is heavy, syrupy on the tongue. The caramel aroma returns in the flavor but it is balanced by the spiciness of the hops as well as the lager crispness. This is not a very hoppy beer, although I suppose that's relative in this day and age of 100+ IBU brews.
In addition to be a hybrid style-wise, I find that Iron Works is a hybrid in terms of servability. I have been drinking this stuff the latter half of this year and find that the light body and dry finish make it very refreshing in warmer weather but that the high malt aspect of the profile also makes it eminently drinkable in colder weather.
Junk food pairing: During a recent Packer game I found that Iron Works goes great with nuts freshly cracked from the shell, especially pecans and hazelnuts. And last night I discovered that it is just swell with a some chunks of Musa's Hot Albanian Sausage. Who knew that someone made Albanian sausage here in Madison?
I also want to note the existence of the altbier glass or Becher.
I do so for the sake of completeness and that it allows me to go off on a rant.
These are like Kölsch glasses in that they are cylindrical with straight sides but they're shorter and wider. And I'd bet that the only alt glasses in Madison are in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying “Beware of the Leopard”. Belgian beers always seem to get the correct tulip glass or chalice yet my Kölsch and altbiers come in pints instead of a stange or Becher. Until alts get more popular I won't expect the proper glass, but times are tough so at least give me my Kölsch in the correct glass so it doesn't get warm while I'm drinking it and you can hire Köbes to keep it filled and help the unemployment situation. It's a win-win proposition.