Sunday, August 21, 2011

Beer style of the week: Kolsch & Altbiers

Week 29

Although it’s a warm August day, we clearly see several undeniable signs that fall is fast approaching. The shelves of our local packies are filling up with Autumn Ale, Pumpkin Ale and Oktoberfest.

But damn it! It’s still summer! As much as I LOVE fall beers (and winter and spring beers), there are still interesting beer styles, which bring us refreshing libation from the dog days. The Kӧlsch and Altbier styles can cool the heat as well or better than any Witbier, Pilsner, Vienna Lager, or any light summer brew out there today.

The Kӧlsch style began in Kӧln (Cologne), Germany. The first official record of the style was in 1918. However, records of a pact signed by Gaffel Brewery (famous Kölsch brewer) and 21 other guilds declaring their independence from the nobles of the day dated in 1396, suggests that maybe the style goes back much further.

Kӧlsch is unique in the brewing world in that it is brewed as top fermented as an ale, then cold-conditioned (lagered) as a lager. Crisp, dry, light, yet pleasant aromas and flavors are its hallmark. Pale straw to golden colored, lightly floral scented, herbal with a mildly lime citrus bitterness, light to medium-bodied dry maltiness. Lovely!

The Altbier, from rival city, Dusseldorf is a similarly-styled beer (top fermentation, followed by lagering); although the Alt is brewed with bit more of a hop bite and a darker-roasted barley, making it similar to an English Pale Ale in appearance, yet totally German in character. Sticke Alt is a ramped up Altbier. Just a tad more malt and hops, but not in an Imperial sense.

Though perhaps a twenty minute car ride distance apart, (10 if my wife is driving) the folks in Kӧln and Dusseldorf are fiercely loyal to their home-town beer. To them the differences between their biers are dramatic. Just for fun, order a Kölsch in Dusseldorf or an Altbier in Cologne. You may set off a brouhaha! (Or is that a brewhaha) Ha ha…heh…

Kӧlsch From the land of origin

Reissdorf – Kӧln, Germany – 4.8% ABV

16.9oz brown bottle. No freshness date.

It pours a clean straw/golden color with a foamy, slow-fading snow-white head and some trailing and patchy lacing.

A mildly fragrant dry malt smell is noticed upon a fairly hard pour. A faint aroma of cut hay lasts.

A surprisingly sweet and firm malt body lives within its rather weak appearance. The delicate hop profile has a light lime-like quality with just a hint of a metallic tang.

This is a brew that requires a more careful examination to identify subtle flavors and fragrances. Nothing except the appearance profile jumps out as obvious or easy to characterize.

Gaffel Becker – Koln, Germany – 4.8% ABV

Gaffel is as fine an example of the Kölch style around. By all appearances it looks to be a thin and weak beer, but it has a surprisingly ample body and is fantastically gulpable. The hoppy aroma dissipates rapidly so catch it early. There's an ample dose of hops which balance nicely with the malt about halfway through the glass. Nice white head doesn't last too long (could have been that I drank it from a pint glass instead of an actual Altbier glass).

Authentic Altbiers

Pinkus Organic Alt – Pinkus Mueller Brauerei – Munster, (North of Dusseldorf) Germany – 5.2% ABV

Interesting dull gold with a nice foamy/frothy head and trails of sliding lace. The aroma is faintly of yeast, malt and hops. The malt is lightly sweet with a trace of herbs. Lightly lime-like citrus hops with a hint of cloves. The alcohol peeks through from time to time. Becomes sweeter and more evenly balanced throughout. This is a gulpable beer. I kept raising my ratings as I drank it.

Frankenheim Alt – Privatbrauerei Frankenheim – Dusseldorf, Germany – 4.8% ABV

11.2oz brown bottle. Dated.

It pours a lovely deep brown amber color with a big foamy beige head.

A doughy malt aroma dominates. Fragrant citrusy hops linger in the background.

A substantial biscuity and bready malt house flavors of toffee and brown sugar.

The hops are a combination of citrusy bitterness, metallic bite and peppery spices. A light herbal quality increases its presence as it warms.

This is a smooth and rounded beverage. It goes well with sausages and breaded veal dishes.

New England Kӧlsch and Alts

Long Trail Ale – Bridgewater Corners, Vermont – 4.6% ABV

This is an Altbier. Shiny copper and loaded with malty flavor. A yeasty and hoppy aroma finishes with a light herbal malt and pleasant finishing hop. The sharp metallic hop bite is as bright as an IPA without being bitter. Nice white head. Best described as a cross between an Oktoberfest and Pale Ale.

Kenmore Kӧlsch Hingham Beer Works – Hingham, MA. 4.5% ABV

Served in a tall cylindrical tumbler.
It pours the palest golden straw color possible with a snow-white head. Lots of sticky and trailing lacing throughout.
A cut grass smell is upfront, followed by a bit of barn hay and dried malt. A light whiff of citrusy hop mixes in, as does a faint metallic smell.
The malty dextrose taste is noticed first. Lime-like citrus and a touch of a metallic tang poke through.
Dry and crisp at early, it's very balanced as it warms.
So nice!

McNeill’s Alle Tage Altbier – Brattleboro, Vermont ABV unknown

This could be called an alt Alt bier, because this one is a little darker, a little hoppier and a bit more astringent than is typical of the style. It pours a hazy brown. A decent beige head sits atop. The malt body is smooth and substantial. A light sweetness balances sharp-edged bitter hops a somewhat astringent medicinal quality. It finishes clean and dry.

Sticke Alts

Uerige Sticke - Uerige Obergärige Hausbrauerei GmbH / Zum Uerige Dusseldorf, Germany - 6% ABV

I haven’t had the pleasure. It comes highly recommended. Please let me know where I can find some!

Long Trail Double Bag – Bridgewater Corners, Vermont – 7.2% ABV

12oz brown bottle. Served in a nonic tumbler.

It pours a shiny tan mahogany color with a fast-fading beige head. Some patchy and sticking lacing.

The aroma is certainly malt forward. Sweet malt followed by limey citrus and mixed fruit cup. A bit of rummy fuminess advances.

The sweet honey-like malty backbone could easily double as a Dopple bock. The German citrusy and metallic tangy Nobles hops and Alt yeast are what keeps this in the Altbier family. The 7.2% ABV makes it a Sticke.

Zum Wohl, Prost, Gott segne Sie!

Quote: “He who drinks beer sleeps well.

He who sleeps well cannot sin.

He who does not sin goes to heaven.

Amen” – German Monk