Altbier (German: old beer) is a style of beer brewed in the historical region of Westphalia and around the city of Düsseldorf, Germany. Its name comes from it being top-fermented, an older method than the bottom fermentation of other lagered beers.
Altbier is usually a dark copper colour. It is fermented at a moderate temperature using a top-fermenting yeast which gives its flavour some fruitiness, but matured at a cooler temperature, which gives it a cleaner and crisper taste more akin to lager beer styles than is the norm for top-fermented beers, such as British pale ale.
Altbier in Germany
Altbier is a beer variety strongly associated with the Lower Rhine region and especially in the towns of Düsseldorf, Krefeld and Mönchengladbach Although it remains popular in those towns, its market share elsewhere has been falling and across the North Rhine Westphalia region has dropped below 5%. Elsewhere in Germany very little Alt is sold. The first producer to use the name Alt to contrast its top-fermenting beer with the bottom-fermenting kinds was the Schumacher brewery of Düsseldorf, which opened in 1838.
The market leader in terms of volume sold is Diebels, a brand within the AB InBev brewing empire. Other mass-market brewers of Altbier include the Radeberger Gruppe under the brands Schlösser Alt and Hansa Alt. These are complemented by small breweries, predominantly based in Düsseldorf.
Some Altbier breweries have a tradition of producing a stronger version, Sticke Alt, coming from a local dialect word meaning "secret". Originally a special reserve beer intended for the brewers' own consumption, it is generally a seasonal or special occasion brew and is stronger in taste and alcohol as well as darker than the brewery's standard output.
Producers in Düsseldorf
There are eight bars in Düsseldorf which brew Altbier on the premises:
- Alter Bahnhof (Gulasch Alt)
- Brauhaus Joh Albrecht (Johann Albrecht Alt)
- Brauerei Möhker
Füchschen, Uerige, Schlüssel and Kürzer are all brewed and sold in the Altstadt (Old Town). Schumacher is between the Altstadt and the main train station (Hauptbahnhof), although it also has a pub in the Altstadt, Im Goldenen Kessel, across the street from Schlüssel.
Each brewpub produces a seasonal "Sticke" variant in small quantities, though the names vary: Schlüssel spells it "Stike", without the "c", while Schumacher calls its special beer "Latzenbier", meaning "slat beer", possibly because the kegs from which it was poured had been stored on raised shelves. Füchschen's seasonal is its Weihnachtsbier (Christmas beer), available in bottles starting mid-November, and served in the brewpub on Christmas Eve.
Producers outside Düsseldorf
Altbier brewed outside Düsseldorf includes that produced by the Diebels brewery in Issum, the Gleumes brewery in Krefeld, the Bolten brewery in Korschenbroich and the Warsteiner brewery in Warstein, which owns the brand "Frankenheim Alt", which was originally brewed in Düsseldorf. The biggest Altbier brewery is located in Krefeld: Former Rhenania brewery, now called Königshofer brewery produces besides their self-labelled Königshofer Alt a variety of different brands including the Carlsberg owned Hannen Alt and Gatzweiler Alt. Altbier is somewhat similar to Cologne's native beer style Kölsch, being warm-fermented at a lower temperature than British ales, and Altbier proper is also brewed in Cologne's smallest brewery "Braustelle" as "Ehrenfelder Alt".
Altbier has been produced in the city of Venlo in the Netherlands since at least 1753. Venlo is on the border to Germany approximately 50 km (30 miles) from Düsseldorf. The beer was produced up until the Second World War but then had a hiatus until its revival in 1983. It is produced by the Lindeboom brewery, who bought the recipe in 2001.
Versions of Altbier are brewed in the United States, though not always to traditional recipes.
Kilannan Brewing Company near Owen Sound, Ontario has been brewing an Altbier since 2012. Kilannan also produces a traditional Kölsch. The Creemore Springs brewery in Ontario, Canada celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2012 by producing an Altbier in collaboration with the Schlüssel brewery of Düsseldorf.
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