It's nice to see that Port Huron is brewing an altbier and that Robin Shepard reviewed it
last week for Isthmus
. I look forward to trying it. Three beer nerd observations:
1) Shepard writes: "Altbiers are ales conditioned at cooler temperatures for longer periods, in a way similar to how a lager is made."
German brewing tradition pegs it as a lagerbier
, albeit one that is top-fermenting, and not an ale. Different brewing traditions. How did we Americans get in the habit of classifying beer as either an ale or a lager? I wonder if it's something we inherited from the British. Then again, they didn't think of stouts and porters as ales as late as the early 20th century. Perhaps it is a more recent distinction resulting from Charlie Papazian and the homebrewing revolution. And when we use the ale vs. lager distinction, are we really talking location of the yeast or the temperature at which the yeast works its magic?
Where does the California common fit in? I've read (probably at Ron Pattinson's blog
) about the German practice of mixing top and bottom-fermenting beers in years where there's a shortage of ice. How do you classify these beers? If your weizen has more than 50% wheat or if you ferment only wheat as in a grätzer/grodziskie
, is it even beer? Or a roggenbier
with more than 50% rye? Is kvass beer? What about gluten-free brews like Lakefront's New Grist?
2) "The stronger, darker and richer version is called Sticke, which means secret, a reference to brewers' habit of providing few details as to the beer's recipe."
I always thought the secret wasn't the ingredients - it's an altbier, for starters, and, after 1870 or so*** (see Ron Pattinson's comment below), they would have been Reinheitsgebot
-compliant - so I can't see why people would have shrouded the beer's recipe in mystery. Instead the secret was when the barrel would have been tapped. A brewer would mismeasure malt and have to add more hops to compensate so you got a bigger alt. From the German Beer Institute*** (see Ron's comment again):
The news of a brewmaster's mistake, of course, normally would get around quickly among the initiated, who would pass the secret by word of mouth, behind cupped hands, in a "stickum" or "sticke" sort of way... and to be in on the secret was quite a privilege. It is said that this "stickum" hot tip, shared among the aficionados, then became the origin of the beer's name. Nowadays, however, Sticke brewers have abandoned the secrecy sourrounding the unveiling of the Sticke.
This is what I've always heard. The secret is when the bier would be unveiled, not the recipe.
3) "Alt Bier is traditionally served in a narrow 200 ml (about 7 ounces) glass called a Stange..."
I thought you drank your Kölsch out of a stange but your altbier from a becher which is cylindrical like a stange but shorter and wider. See Wikipedia
, for example. Or, better yet, look at photos
taken by beer nerds in Düsseldorf. Those aren't stangen.
Not that it really matters to we Americans as tend to put everything shy of 10% ABV in a pint glass, although it may be a point of contention if you hail from Köln or Düsseldorf.