October 21, 2013

Altbier: Book Review

Altbier is the 1990s era Classic Beer Style Series book, predictably about alt. Alt is a fairly misunderstood style. Many homebrewing recipes I find include a lot of English/American crystal malts and end up looking like some noble hop-infused English brown ale. I'm not sure whether these crystal malt-driven recipes are simply historic remnants of homebrewers and early craft brewers lacking access to a wider range of German malts or simply a misunderstanding of the style. Altbier does a good job of dismantling the idea that alt should be loaded with crystal malts.

Altbier suffers from some of the same flaws as other books in the Classic Beer Style series. It's thin on technical info and written for a 1990s homebrewing audience that lacked access to the range of ingredients, equipment and knowledge we have today. It spends unnecessary time discussing general homebrewing process. However, the recipe section does a good job of offering basic examples of the wide variety of alt styles from sticke alt, which is darker, bolder and hoppier, to equally rarely seen wheat-employing variants.

The book begins with a brief survey of the history of alt and its relationship with Dusseldorf. It then moves into discussing the flavor profile (in a scant few pages) before rolling into a discussion of typical ingredients. The ingredient discussion is mostly limited to the use of pilsner malt, vienna malt and munich malt. These are the most common ingredients but the use of specialty ingredients in small amounts is downplayed, if not discouraged in this section of the book. I found that odd since the recipes later in the book are more liberal with ingredients.

The book then turns to brewing alts. It opens with a section about homebrewing equipment, which can be mostly disregarded since it's all antiquated homebrewing equipment. The next chapter gets into alt brewing techniques. The book then ventures into a lengthy set of recipes. I wish the book had spent more time discussing some of these variants instead of including a general discussion of homebrewing. At any rate, the recipes are a good starting point that can easily be tweaked with some German specialty malts to add a little complexity. The book concludes with several appendices of little importance.

Altbier overall was a good book. Worth the cash, if only to get a good set of core recipes to work from. Like most or all of the Classic Beer Style series, it helps to read the book with careful attention to how much of the 1990s homebrewing knowledge was suspect.

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