A few years ago a German television network aired a documentary called Hopfen und Malz Verloren
which documented and lamented the state of the German brewing industry. For the final minutes of the program, the cameras are at the 2012 World Beer Cup where German brewers lost in several, if not most, of the German beer style categories. One of those categories, German-Style Brown Ale/Düsseldorf-Style Altbier, didn't even see a German brewer place. The silver medal, however, went to Scott Manning at Vintage Brewing Company
for his Rhine Heights.
Ah, the altbier – the official brew of Düsseldorf and cousin of the Kölsch in neighboring Cologne – is a hybridized, bastardized brew. It is top-fermenting like an ale but is also lagered (an Obergäriges Lagerbier
). As I noted here
, the altbier seems to have been born of the conflicting desires of the brewers of Düsseldorf a couple hundred years ago to not only adhere to ale traditions but also to the new trendy lager. I also discovered that it is fermented at temperatures cooler than an ale but warmer than a lager.
Herr Manning likes to brew Rhine Heights for release in late winter/early spring, although, because it rotates in and out of the Vintage line-up, it is sometimes available at other times of the year. Scott throws every malt he can get his grubby hands on into the brew – pilsner, Munich, Vienna, Kiln Amber, and a dash of de-bittered black. That final one helps give Rhine Heights its deep reddish brown color.
The luscious chestnut nectar was nice'n'clear. My pour produced a lovely creamy tan head that lasted half a minute or so. It was quite effervescent with lots of bubbles inside going up, up, and away!
Despite having a few acres of malty goodness in every glass, there wasn't much sweetness in the aroma. Rhine Heights takes about a month to go from conception to parturition – longer than your typical ale – and gets to mellow even further awaiting consumption. My nose caught a hint of stone fruit but that was it for sweetness. There was also a little vanilla and a really nice nuttiness too.
Rhine Heights is smooth and medium-bodied. I caught a goodly dose of carbonation on my first sip and from there it was off to the malty races. The vanilla from the aroma was here as was a smidgen of chocolate. There was plenty of roasted grain flavor – how could there not be with all those malts? - along with a little toffee sweetness. Overall it had a nice, clean lagery taste. Scott uses Magnum, Spalt, and Saaz hops in Rhine Heights but I only tasted a modicum of grassy hop flavor with minimal bitterness.
For the finish the roasted malt and toffee flavors lingered as that grassy hop taste was joined by a peppery flavor which was surely the Saaz kicking in. The hops accented the malt well and while the Saaz gave a little shot of spicy sharpness, the hops were pretty mellow and not particularly bitter overall. There were a few spots of Schaumhaftvermoegen
left on my glass but most of the foam slid into the bier.
I look forward to Rhine Heights every year because I adore its clean malty taste. The sweetness is kept at bay allowing the nutty aroma and roasted grain flavors to come to the fore. But wait - there's more! Rhine Heights adds vanilla and chocolate accents for a big, rich malty taste. Plus I really enjoy the little burst of peppery spice from the hops on the finish. It comes in at 5.8% A.B.V. which is a nice strength for this seasonally transitional time of year.
Junk food pairing: Try pairing Rhine Heights with curry wurst potato chips, if available, for that authentic touch. Barring that, grab a bag of Gardetto's Deli-Style Mustard pretzels.
Labels: Altbier, Beer, Vintage Brewing