Fearful Symmetries

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06 August, 2013

Schell's Schmaltz's Alt: The Mud Ducks Strike Again



Notice the proper glassware in the photo.

The altbier hails from the Rhineland and is most closely associated with Düsseldorf these days. It's not a particularly popular style in the United States and, from what I've read, it's considered something of a regional specialty in Germany. The altbier is an Obergäriges Lagerbier, a top-fermenting lager beer. I've read that the altbier is a descendant of various medieval brews which I've come to regard as true but such a broad statement as to be meaningless. Like the koelsch, the alt is the product of a Reinheitsgebot but not the one in Bavaria that everyone is familiar with. This one in the Rhineland forbade the brewing of bottom-fermenting bier. My guess is that, as lagering became more and more popular, laws were enacted to protect the established breweries that didn't lager their bier. This is pure speculation on my part. But lagering was trendy and the brewers in the region split the difference.

Truth be told, I've never had an altbier from Germany. The Malt House occasionally gets a barrel of Uerige but it seems that every time they do, I am either busy, too lazy, or simply forget that they have it. I have tasted a handful of American iterations of the style and it seems that American craft brewers consider the style to be an ale and skip or skimp on the whole lagering process. Thusly a lot of the fruity flavors formed during fermentation remain.

I have recently become enamored of Schell's beers and figured that I'd give their alt a go.

Schmaltz's Alt pours a deep copper. You can see this if you hold your glass to a light. Otherwise it appears a very dark brown, almost black. I got a nice foamy head that stuck around for a while. I was rather disappointed in the distinct lack of Schaumhaftvermoegen. It just slid down the side of the glass. There is a moderate amount of bubbles in the beer. The aroma leans heavily towards caramel but my nose caught toasted grain as well.

The caramel and toasted grain carry forward into the flavor where they are joined by a fruity, plum-like taste as well as that of more heavily roasted grains that give a slight coffee flavor. There are no fruity esters to be had here. Schmaltz's has a nice malty flavor with the caramel being most prominent. While the taste leaned towards sweetness, it was never cloying and had a medium mouthfeel. Some balance is provided by noble hops. I say "some balance" because the hops are a bit faint. You can certainly taste them but they are relegated to the background for the most part. My understanding is that altbiers are generally hopped like a Bohemian pilsner whereas Schmaltz's has much fewer IBUs. But there is no doubt variation in hopping in Düsseldorf so it's probably not fair to say that Schell's take on the style is way off base. It finished with a spicy dryness courtesy of the hops.

While a bit more hops would have been nice, this is a fine bier. (Metropolitan's Iron Works Alt is a good example of malt-hop balance.) The malt takes center stage here but it isn't cloying like most domestic alts I've had. The Schell's website say it's 5.1% ABV which I believe is just a smidgeon above the stuff you get in the Rhineland but the hop dryness and aging have made this stuff eminently quaffable.

Junk food pairing: Schmaltz's Alt pairs well with warm soft pretzels lathered with bacon-horseradish dip.

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|| Palmer, 1:40 PM

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