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.

Comments are closed.