That good old bier

David | Blog | January, 28 2011 | No Comment

The latest in the ongoing series I Never Met a Beer/Cheese I Didn’t Like.


Altbier or alt, is a German style that sits happily somewhere between an ale and a lager.  The word alt translates roughly to old, and in German beer culture that also means ale—the family of beers that chronologically preceded lagers.  Altbier is typically fermented at cellar temperatures with ale yeast, but then lagered, or stored at cold temperatures, ideally for several weeks.  It is also heavily hopped for bitterness and some hop flavor. The cold maturation removes most (but not all) of the fruity characteristics found in, say, a British ale, and allows a clean, toffee/biscuity malty flavor to move forward and mingle with the hop bitterness.  A good example usually finishes dry and has a fairly thin body and mouthfeel, providing plenty of refreshment.  Alt is usually a bright (there are unfiltered versions) amber/copper color.

There are two distinct substyles—Dusseldorf Alt and Northern German Alt. The Dusseldorf has a drier malt flavor, while the Northern can be fairly sweet.  Both are really session beers, with typical alcohol levels of 4.5 to 5.0% by volume.  The most celebrated Alt brewer, Uerige, also makes a stronger sticke alt, and since 2005, an 8.5% doppel sticke as a seasonal specialties. Doppel sticke is made specifically for US export.

Zum Uerige, the Dusseldorf brewpub from which Uerige originates, was made famous in part by the writings of the late Michael Jackson, and has become a place of pilgrimage for many beer enthusiasts.  Uerige is distributed in many US markets, Pinkus Organic, (and  perhaps a  couple other German brands) also has some US distribution. Several North American craft brewers have successfully adapted the style. Examples currently, or recently available include Southampton Secret, Alaskan Amber, Otter Creek Copper, Victory Ten Years Alt, Schmaltz Alt, and Widmer Alt.  

Okay, for a cheese partner, the temptation would be to gamble with a German cheese, and that’s fine if you’re feeling lucky. It’s been said that the best German cheeses come from Switzerland. If you are adamant, I might suggest a German-style cheese from Wisconsin—one of those creamy mellow cheeses would be fine (and easier to find than an import), and you might even be able to go with something stinky like a Widmer Brick.  But I think the real possibilities lie elsewhere, perhaps with an aged goat cheese, or a farmhouse cheddar.  I might even give it a go with the tangy Cornish Yarg.

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