Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

19 November, 2012

What's the Sticke?

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.
|| Palmer, 7:29 AM


US convention is to classify beers as ales or lagers solely by whether they're fermented with the yeast species Saccharomyces cerevisiae (ale yeast) or Saccharomyces pastorianus (lager yeast). Advances in genome sequencing are changing how yeasts are classified, but for now it's a fairly clear-cut way of deciding where a beer falls. That's not to say I agree with it, as something like a Kolsch - which is often classified in the US as "hybrid but technically an ale" because it's fermented with the ale species of yeast - tastes and smells much more like a typical lager than a typical ale. Geeks!
Blogger Joe Walts, at 8:16 PM  
Yeah, but where did we get that convention?
Blogger Palmer, at 8:59 PM  
Oh. I have no idea.
Blogger Joe Walts, at 6:12 AM  
Me neither. You'd think that since the US has such a strong brewing tradition from Germany, we'd have inherited their taxonomy. I am totally guessing here but I suspect our ale-lager distinction comes from Charlie Papazian and Michael Jackson. Or that it's pretty recent.

What are you drinking with turkey this year?
Blogger Palmer, at 6:22 AM  
The pupmkin spice old ale. It paired will with dinner and the Detroit Lions' traditional Thanksgiving loss.
Blogger Joe Walts, at 6:01 PM  
I am not surprised on either count. Sorry we missed it last week.
Blogger Palmer, at 5:51 AM  
The Reinheitsgebot was only applied to the whole of Germany in 1906.

Don't believe everything you read on the German Beer Institute site. It's the site of one of the worst beer writing phantasists, Horst Dornbusch.
Blogger Ron Pattinson, at 6:07 AM  
Thanks for the correction, Ron.

As for the GBI, I was aware that it was Horst Dornbusch's project and I've read your criticism of him. But the story there comported with what I've heard from other sources and the GBI came up first in a web search so I went with it.
Blogger Palmer, at 6:22 AM  

Post a Comment