Fearful Symmetries

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19 August, 2015

Düsseldorf Calling: Uerige Alt



My little altbier trifecta ends with a taste of Düsseldorf - Uerige Alt. Credit must go to Riley's Wines of the World for carrying Uerige's bier as I haven't seen it anywhere else.

Uerige was established in 1862 which means it's been around for most of the time there's been this beer that we call the Düsseldorfer Alt. I did some reading on the origin of the altbier and ended up getting thoroughly lost in a labyrinth of 16th and 17th century Westphalian and Bavarian alimentary laws. The altbier's cousin, the Kölsch, springs from Cologne's brewing traditions shaped by a 1603 law banning bottom-fermented beers. As far as I can tell the point of this law was to preserve the city's brewing heritage against the encroachment of lagers but surely it also had something to do with protecting the city's indigenous breweries. Did Düsseldorf have any similar laws? I could find nothing at Ron Pattinson's blog indicating that it did but this could very well just be lazy researching on my part.

It seems that the brewers of Northern Germany spent a lot of Renaissance fending off the influence of Bavaria. In 1551 a Munich law mandated the use of bottom-fermenting yeast there and a couple years later Bavaria outlawed brewing in the summer because of ales going south. In what appears to be a series of laws aimed at protecting the consumer, Bavarians unwittingly elevated lagerbier above ales. The lager trend spread and brewers in places like Cologne and Düsseldorf struggled against it. It seems that the altbier and Kölsch are the products of brewers clinging onto tradition on the one hand (top-fermenting) and yielding to trends on the other (lagering). Hence the native style for these brews is Obergäriges Lagerbier - or top-fermented lager beer.

In doing my reading I also learned that the altbier and Kölsch, while top-fermenting, are fermented at cooler temperatures (55°F-60°F) than your average ale (65°F-75°F).

My photo didn't turn out too badly here and, as you can see, Uerige Alt is a beauty. It's clear with a nice copper color. My pour had a nice off-white head that was in no hurry to leave. The aroma was sweet with caramel and raisin notes in my nose. I was surprised not to catch any hops as I was under the impression that the alt was fairly hoppy – in the Czech pilsner range. But, as with any other beer style, your mileage may vary. Plus I wasn't sure how long the beer had been sitting on the shelf when I bought it.

Curiously enough, I didn't find much in the way of hops in the flavor either. The dominant flavor was roasted grain which veered into chocolate territory slightly. But there was also this slight plum-like flavor and I tasted something I can best describe as being like vermouth. The latter of these was quite unexpected. The beer wasn't very sweet but had a medium body. I think the carbonation helped add to my tongue's impression that this wasn't a particularly sweet beer.

The beer finished dry with (finally!) some spicy hop goodness coming through.

I am reluctant to make any definitive judgements about the beer as I can't vouch for its freshness. With that caveat, I will say that I rather liked this beer. The fruitier flavors weren't as prominent as roasted grain ones and I really liked the chocolate tones. These flavors melded well. Actually, Uerige Alt had a rather more complicated malt profile than I expected. There were just more fruity bits comingling with more roasty bits than I thought there would be. The absence of hops until the finish was disappointing, however.

Junk food pairing: Uerige Alt goes well with Cheez-It Duos Sharp Cheddar and Parmesan crackers. These brighter tasting snacks help provide some balance since there's not much hop bitterness to be had.

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|| Palmer, 11:12 AM

5 Comments:

It was almost certainly too old. Bottles sold in Germany have both a bottling and best before date: they're just 4 weeks apart. Uerige is pretty bitter when fresh.
Blogger Ron Pattinson, at 4:37 AM  
That's what I suspect. I may have kept the bottle as it had a swing top so I'll see if it has a date on it. Thanks.
Blogger Palmer, at 7:54 AM  
The Uerige bottles are now on a top shelf and described as "Vintage 2011".
Blogger Palmer, at 7:00 PM  
How timely! http://hoptripper.com/the-real-quality-issue-oxidation/
Blogger Joe Walts, at 9:11 PM  
"the malt flavor changes from a clean fresh malt character, to a worty and grainy flavor" The Uerige didn't taste overly worty to me. However, the Roggen Gold above certainly did. The rye aroma/flavor seemed unchanged, however.

I went to the Ding-A-Ling Supper Club in Hanover last week. They had Spotted Cow and Two Women on tap (and WBC INagural Red too). The Two Women was old as it had a worty flavor. :(
Blogger Palmer, at 8:30 AM  

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