beer reviews Beer styles Germany

BrewDog Dü Altbier

We were pleased to hear BrewDog had attempted an Altbier given recent evidence of their knack for brewing textbook examples of classic styles. Is it a beer worth shouting about?

When we were in the very earliest days of learning about beer, using Michael Jackson’s Great Beer Guide as our manual, we were desperate to try Altbier, the speciality of the north-western German city of Düsseldorf.

Then, in 2008, when we’d been blogging less than a year, we finally made the pilgrimage, and did little but drink Alt for several days. We had a great time — the city is fascinating, the pubs are great, and there’s an irresistible charm to almost any regional speciality with its own persistent culture.

The beer itself, however, seemed to us rather like heavily chilled, bog-standard British bitter, saved only from blandness by super-freshness and context.

Candy Kaiser (we paid £2.75 for 330ml from Beer Ritz; it’s available for £1.80 direct from BrewDog) was first brewed in 2014 under the name ‘Amber Alt’. In this latest iteration it tastes (if our seven-year-old memories can be trusted) almost as good as, and pretty similar to, the real thing.

Which is to say, despite a characteristically overblown BrewDog blurb (‘a full throttle attack on your taste buds’) it is accurately unexciting.

It is suitably conker-brown, has an appropriate hard-toffee, brown sugar sweetness, a touch of dark roastiness, and — its saving grace — plenty of serious, unsmiling, business-like bitterness. Other than that, there was little else to latch on to, which is true to style — Alt is for drinking in volume with your pals, not chatting about — but makes it hard to recommend as a beer in its own right.

It doesn’t capture the magic of drinking Alt at source but it does come closer than most bottled versions, so if you’re curious about can’t make it to Düsseldorf, it’s probably the best substitute on the UK market this side of a cold bottle of St Austell HSD.

11 replies on “BrewDog Dü Altbier”

“Alt is for drinking in volume with your pals, not chatting about — but makes it hard to recommend as a beer in its own right.”

Isn’t that the case with pretty much any beer that is consumed by non-enthusiasts in large quantities?

And many people would say that, compared to Kölsch, Altbier is bursting with character 😉

I guess the particular point we’re making there is that we couldn’t recommend this over whatever you *normally* drink in volume with your mates.

On a related note, though…

“Why doesn’t anyone ever write about good old brown bitter?”

Cos what do you actually *say*?

If you try to get into the ‘soul’ of it like Adrian Tierney-Jones does from time to time, you get pilloried for being ‘pretentious’; if you just say, ‘I drank loads, it was nice’, what’s the point?

So Alt is “like heavily chilled, bog-standard British bitter, saved only from blandness by super-freshness and context.”

Aside from my own view that bog-standard British bitter isn’t bland at all (if well kept), this phrase neatly sums up what I love about Altbier. You can’t underrate the importance of the context, though. Some people will read that as, “Oh, so Alt is boring.” Wiser ones should read it as, “Oh, so I should go there.”

Yeah, either go there, or try not to obsess about ticking it off your list and enjoy what you have locally instead.

(Which is easier said than done if you’ve got a geeky tendency, and also risks turning those who can’t afford the time/money to travel into second-class beer geeks, but that’s a whole different conversation.)

I think you have managed to describe exactly how I think the beer scene is taking a misstep.
Brewers should be making *more* beers designed for “drinking in volume with your pals” and making fewer that are designed to be drunk in small quantities as part of a drinks flight.

Beer shouldn’t aim for extreme flavours to make the critic and blogger’s life easier. It should aim for balance and “sessionability” to ease the life and social interaction of the hard-working drinker glugging it back.

To be fair, though, those beers aren’t exactly endangered — they make up the vast majority of beer production and sales.

In fact, pretty much every brewer that I can think of – including most of the beardiest crafties – produce some sort of a knocking-back-with-your-mates beer. And it may not be the one that gets people tweeting, but I’d guess that a lot of the time it’s the biggest seller.

Also, blanket statements about what beer “should” and “shouldn’t” do can gtfo and not come back until they’ve got some significant qualification. 🙂

I’ve always thought of Altbiers in general* as pretty much the German equivalent of English Best Bitter. Indeed, Hövels Original – which is a Dortmunder Alt – used to be suffixed Bitterbier.

* Düsseldorfer Alt is just the best-known example of a swathe of German old brown beer styles – Duckstein is from another Alt tradition for example, while the Altfränkisch Landbiers and Bauerbiers represent a third.

Admin note – your “recent comments” & other sidebar widgets seem to have disappeared; below ‘The Continental Pub’ I’m just seeing white space.

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