Neu Alt?

Modern Alt Bier.

We broadly agree with the sentiment expressed here: it would be a shame if ‘craft beer’ in Germany amounted to nothing more than mediocre imitations of American styles.

At the same time, we don’t demand that other beer cultures remain unchanged as a theme park for visiting beer geeks — we enjoy the fruits of fifty years of increasing diversity in UK brewing, so why would German beer geeks be any different?

What we would like to see, alongside properly traditional styles, is German brewers riffing upon their own brewing heritage, just as US and UK brewers have upon the idea of India Pale Ale and porter.

What, for example, would a modern take on Alt look like?

Perhaps it might have some or most of of its bittering hops reallocated to the late aroma stage, showcasing Perle and other traditional varieties: a change in process, not a change in ingredients.

It might use American hops while retaining the traditional colour, ABV and yeast character. (That would not make it an India Alt, by the way.)

Or maybe it could just be stronger, paler and more bitter? (Yes, we know about Sticke.)

An example of where something like this is already happening is the ‘Hopfen Weisse’ from venerable wheat beer brewer Schneider.

Schneider Hopfen Weisse in its original packaging.

We haven’t conducted a thorough survey of German craft beer and we’re quite out of touch, so there may be many other examples of distinctly German beers which are also ‘modern’. Let us know below, especially if we can get our hands on them here in the UK.

All of the posts in Barm’s recent serial German travelogue are worth a read 1 | 2 | 3  ).

20 thoughts on “Neu Alt?”

  1. When I think a new Altbier, I think of Hoppeditz (ok, more like a Sticke): http://thebittenbullet.blogspot.de/2013/01/christmas-spirit.html

    It is true, however, that the US influence is what most German beer geeks are looking for, and after years of being behind the “craft curve”, and then influences coming in from outside, it’s hardly surprising. It’s new and “cool”. One friend, Gerrit, opined that the definition of a German Craft Brewery is one that makes a pale ale 🙂

    Maybe in the other direction might be the likes of Gruthaus, a “gypsy brewer” who do not describe themselves as craft, and who try to make beers that reflect something of the locality (the Münsterland). So, they make the likes of a Pumpernickel Porter (using strictly traditionally-made Pumpernickel), gruit-based beers (some really experimental that will probably never be allowed to be sold) as Münster had a long tradition of that, and also a revised Münster Alt, which has not gone on sale yet, but could well be a pale ale, with really wonderful hop character. The only other remaining example of Münster Alt is from Pinkus Müller, and that has really lost much of its interesting sour character since they moved production (no, really, it has), so this will certainly be a re-imagining. As a disclaimer, I know the brewer. but don’t want to be blowing his trumpet too much 🙂

    At the same time, there’s still so many brilliant beers to be discovered in Germany. It’s just the new wave of beers that are getting the most headlines in the (massively exploding) German beer blogging scene, presumably because of the novelty. So, why does it have to be re-imagined? I think it will happen, and probably already is. There are certainly already more assertive implementations of “traditional” beers to be had now, but as someone living here for the past 6 years, I’m also quite happy to try the German interpretations of US-influenced styles, and for the most part would not call them “mediocre”. At least no more than the chances of getting mediocre beer from any “craft brewery” anywhere on the globe.

      1. I would certainly put him into the traditional-doing-something-new category, as his pale ales predated the current craft beer craze in Germany, and he was seemingly unaware of the US stuff, and just started trying new hops and dry hopping. It’s just an offshoot of the PIls and Weizen brewery he runs…

    1. I think your friend Gerrit has a very good point – many German brewers seem to think they can become “craft” by making a Pale Ale, or if they’re feeling really adventurous, an IPA.

      But to be fair, as others have said, there are some that are reworking German classics. Heck, simply rediscovering those classics – the German beer heritage that was drowned by yellow lager during the Bavarian Colonisation – is a good start! That heritage includes pale ales, sours of various sorts, stouts and porters, and of course properly bitter beers – beers such as Hövels and some of the Franconian braunbiers remind us that Germany was one a bitter ale culture too.

  2. Have you seen or tried Gaffel’s Sonnenhopfen? A Citra hopped (late or dry, I’m not sure) kolsch-style beer that’s unfiltered. It’s tasty yet retains the qualities you’d expect.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that many of these modern German beers tend to have a distinctively German flavour, whether lager or ale. They tend to be bittered with classic German hops, they keep a clean depth (in the best, anyway) and then get American late hops – those bittering hops make them stand out from others, as does the lager-like cleanliness. There are, however, many which are unrefined and unsuccessful US remakes.

    Look at Schonramer as an interesting example of a good brewery doing it: a great lager brewery but also making very good pales ales, an imperial stout, a green-hopped pils, and more. Classic styles modernised in the brewery’s own way.

    Or breweries like Bayerischer Bahnhof and Braustelle who are taking German styles and evolving them – tripelbocks, double gose aged in tequila barrels, an altbier brewed in Cologne, black gose, a 7% schwarzbier…

    It seems, anecdotally, that there’s a difference between those breweries keeping a German background and those being totally inspired by US beers. It also seems (again anecdotally) that the German-based ones are more successful.

    And I think the idea of an India Alt (as opposed to a sticke) sounds pretty delicious…

  3. Interesting comments and certainly there are some German breweries doing different things, but none is really a modern take on an altbier and even Sonnenhopfen isn’t really a Koelsch any more, but a warm fermented, cold conditioned unfiltered beer finished with US hops. A golden ale perhaps.

    I think Mark has a fair point about keeping the cleanliness of German beer and twisting it with different and bolder hops, or even, just putting a shedload more of noble hops in what they do, whether it be an alt base, a Koelsch or just a much more assertive pilsner. Schwartzbier has almost limitless possibilities. Additionally copying American styles may also fill a gap in a very conservative beer market and if done well, why not?

    Back to a modern alt. I see nothing to disagree with in your comment “It might use American hops while retaining the traditional colour, ABV and yeast character.” That would be interesting, though I think it would become an American Pale Ale. I am not so keen in making anything that much stronger though, as it often takes away as much as it adds, Sticke Alt being a prime example where Sticky Alt would perhaps describe it better.

    I do think though the Germans need to be bolder with what they have. That might for them be innovative enough, or maybe just back to their roots. Then build on that. What they lack on the whole is boldness and imagination. Scheider has pointed the way. Now let’s have an assertively hopped Original.

  4. Interesting thoughts. Arguably, though, a craft scene that aspires to faithful imitations of US craft beers is the first step towards a craft scene with its own distinctive local character, as people collectively gain self-confidence and stop looking to US beers as the benchmark…

    1. Exactly so. But Germans don’t need the push, they already have a luxury of well-rooted styles.

      Gary

  5. I don’t really mean to imply that brewers in Germany or anywhere else should stick to well-worn styles and not imitate US beer. That’s where there’s a niche market and some seem to be doing well with it. I find the rustic old taverns and the dozens of variations on native styles more interesting, but that’s just me personally.

    What I object to is the hubris with which the existing brewing culture is dismissed and denigrated by some of the advocates of so-called “craft beer”. You get people saying with a straight face that Gaffel Kölsch or Berliner Pilsener are essentially no different from Coors Light. That’s absurd and insulting.

    1. Agreed, that is daft – and eerily reminiscent of the early days of the British craft beer scene and all that “craft beer vs real ale” stuff from Brewdog et al.

      On the other hand, there’s probably a degree of zeal-of-the-converted going on, and the odds are that – as seems to have happened to some extent in the UK – there’ll be a lot of blurring of boundaries as the craft scene gets older, bigger and (in more than one sense) more mature.

    2. I’d tend to agree with that sentiment, Barm. Although I welcome our new pale ale overlords with open arms (well, it is exciting to see many more breweries trying something new, and often doing it quite well), with over 1300 breweries, there’s a breadth and depth of flavour to experience. Never mind places like Bamberg! 🙂

      What bothers me about the recent German trends is the concept propagated by some of a craft beer culture, or way of life, and trying to pick up that elusive definition of a craft beer. By any reckoning, quite a large number of small breweries dotted around Germany should qualify as craft, in the sense of hand crafted, locally made and sold produce, despite not a citra hop being in sight. Anyway, it is this kind of thing that had led me to feel less comfortable with the term craft beer over the past year or so.

      B&B, I was thinking while doing some work over the past couple of hours, about the idea of old styles getting a new lick of paint. I guess the US and other scenes have done that quite a lot, amping up old styles in terms of IBU and ABVs, not to mention different hop varieties. So if German breweries start doing that, would that then be copying again? Maybe it’s the likes of Alt, Kölsch, Helles or Export that are being “left behind”. Although I’ve had stuff like a Helles suped up with Saphir or wine-barrel-aged Doppelbock. As we know, there’s nothing new under the brewing sun, but it’s nice to see even quite traditional German brewers trying things out.

      1. ” By any reckoning, quite a large number of small breweries dotted around Germany should qualify as craft, in the sense of hand crafted, locally made and sold produce, despite not a citra hop being in sight. Anyway, it is this kind of thing that had led me to feel less comfortable with the term craft beer over the past year or so.”

        So I know how it came about historically, but can you imagine how many electrons would have been saved in online discussions if someone had only come up with a less loaded word than “craft” to refer to non-US breweries that are heavily influenced by US beer styles and popular with hipsters? If “new wave breweries” or something had actually stuck then life would have been so much simpler – you wouldn’t get traditional brewers feeling that they’re being unfairly lumped into the same “not craft and hence industrial pish” box as Carling, or slightly incongruous stuff like Batemans claiming to be “New Wave since 1874″…

        It’s the bait and switch between craft meaning “tastes like grapefruit” and craft meaning “brewed with care by people who love beer” that seems to have led to the whole pointless waste of time…

        1. We’ve tried using alternative terms, e.g. ‘modern’, and, er, ‘alternative’, and they wind people up just as much.

        2. I’m not sure any term would have worked much better. I sort of like ‘New Wave’ but its time would expire and we’d end up wanting to refer to something as ‘New-New Wave’ which would have been pretty detestable.

          Still, at least “Craft” isn’t as dismissively loaded as “Real”. *runs and hides*

  6. I feel strongly that Germans do not need to make American styles. They already have a craft culture – they are one of the inventors amongst the world nations – and need only nurture the best of it. For example, in alt, given the interest today in higher ABVs, they need simply make the sticke more available. They should make more bock available (all the different kinds but especially doppels), more Rauch Bier, more helles that uses generous hopping and they should stay away from pasteurization. Given the choice between making an Augustiner style helles and a Paulaner, say, or Beck’s, they should go with the Augustiner style. Or Ayinger. Grafting on IPA and porter will just confuse things and endanger their own best traditions, which is a risk already afflicting the U.K.

    If they want to do something “new”, they need only plumb the huge inventory of lapsed top-fermented specialties. Sours? Once again they invented them. Black heavy rich things? They invented mumme, and doppelbock.

    Gary

    Gary

    1. “Grafting on IPA and porter will just confuse things and endanger their own best traditions, which is a risk already afflicting the U.K.”

      I think you overstate this, Gary. The ‘experimental’/non-native/’craft’ end of UK brewing is a tiny proportion of what’s going on overall, and most of the 1500 odd breweries brew bitter, best bitter, etc..

      Lager is a much bigger threat to our native beer culture (loaded word…) than the odd US-inspired IPA or saison.

      Not to mention that what we call US IPA is really a trans-Atlantic development based on British traditions, so I reckon ou brewers are entitled to play with it too!

      1. I was speaking of a risk, not a reality as yet, I hope the risk doesn’t materialize. I don’t feel risk is too strong a word since lager at the outset was a small sale in England too.

        I was struck by how many beers tasted American – beers not always presented as “craft” – a couple of years ago in London, which is always a bellwether, but perhaps the craft taste will remain minimal nationwide. I certainly agree the English and Germans too of course can experiment here, having developed the original traditions: no argument there. But is it wise to do so… I feel they would be better off further developing their own traditions. It would distinguish them better in the international marketplace and provide or retain more variety in the long run worldwide.

        Gary

  7. The most fun is that amber ales in US beer competitions in the 1980s were defined as alts. You have closed a circle.

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