Altbier by Horst Dornbusch

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Altbier by Horst Dornbusch

Postby RokDok » Tue Oct 21, 2014 18:20

Altbier : History Brewing Techniques and Recipes.

The title sums this book up.

It is almost 40 years since I hitch-hiked over to Dusseldorf and started work as an aircraft loader at the airport and I remember all the bars and pubs serving Altbier- in fact my landlord was a brewer at Schlosser alt and took me on a tour of the brewery one day. Hence my interest in this book.

It starts off with the history of Altbier ( trans= old beer) so called because the use of top fermenting yeasts ( saccharomyces cerevisiae ) with their higher fermentation temperatures and higher production of complex flavouring compounds was the ancient way of making German beer. This was superseded in the 1830s with the advent of refrigeration, by bottom fermenting or lager yeasts ( saccharomyces uvarum or carlsbergensis). This lager beer became dominant the world over and throughout Germany, with the exception of a small area in North Rhein Westfalia, in and around Dusseldorf, where the Altbier tradition was maintained.

Altbier's close relative Kolsch is produced in Koln ( Cologne) about 25 miles down the road, using the same techniques.

Where Altbier is similar to Lager is that it is lagered i.e. conditioned at a low temperature for several weeks, and in the case of Altbier this is done on the yeast.

There are a small number of commercial breweries producing Alt in and around Dusseldorf and a few more further afield but there are now just four well known brewpubs. Three of them are in The Altstadt or old town - a square kilometre of the city that wasn't destroyed by our arial activity 70 years ago.

They are :
1) Im Fuchschen- I remember this one well ,with long tables serving hearty German fayre with swift beer-bellied aproned waiters who will take your beer away and replace it if there is only an inch or so left in the glass.
2) Zum Schlüssel - the beer is bottled too under the name Gatzweilers
3) Zum Uerige - probably the most famous brew pub. I have read that the German Ale Wyeast originated from here.

A kilometre away is the oldest brewpub, Schumacher.

He then deals with ingredients. The malt being light two row Pils malt with Vienna or Munich malt added to add some colour. The pils malt has a higher protein content than the British six row malt and explains the long lasting head which slides down the glass as the Alt is drunk.
With hops he emphasises the three properties of bitterness ( hops added at start of boil) flavour ( hops added towards the end of boil ) and aroma ( added at or after flame out ), and the necessity to use 'noble' hops i.e. those with a high humulene content for aroma and low alpha acid or bitterness. Examples are Hallertau, Perle, Tettanger and Spalt.

You really do have to use an Alt yeast in order to get the correct alt flavour.

He then deals with equipment for the home brewer and it was a bit odd to read of using a mash tun / brew kettle combined and then decanting all the mash and wort out by hand into a recirculating lautering tun. It seemed a very cumbersome system.

The main thing is that there is a three step mash, although some breweries use a decoction.

1) mash in at 45-50 degrees centigrade which is the optimum temperature for proteolytic enzymes to become active and convert large proteins into smaller ones or polypeptides. This increases the clarity of the beer whilst providing body and excellent head retention.

2) The temperature is then raised to about 62 degrees for the first saccharification rest- that is the activation of beta amylase enzymes to produce simple fermentable sugars and then :

3) The temperature is raised to 72 degrees for the second saccharification rest i.e. the activation of alpha amylase to produce non fermentable sugars.

Total mash time is about 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

The boil is longer than British beers as well - 1 1/2 to 2 hours to enable some coloration to form via the Maillard reaction.

Hopping - IBUs seem to vary widely 25 - 48 the hops are added in a ratio of 2:1:2 , bittering at start, flavour during , and aroma at the end.

There then follows quite a lot of detail on cooling and lagering, but again technique varies widely.What I found slightly disconcerting was the degree to which these beers are filtered- Such filters clearly didn't exist in the past and I wonder how this affects the properties of the beer.

He gives about eight or nine recipe guidelines , and I think the emphasis is on guidelines. It's apparent that once you have the essentials of two row malt, stepped mash, correct yeast and a bit of lagering you're there.

After this theres a couple of short chapters on yeast fundamentals, types of alt, glossary etc.

This is a great book , only 150 pages or so but very informative, all you need to know to brew an authentic alt.

Cheers RD :drink:

Never eat on an empty stomach
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Re: Altbier by Horst Dornbusch

Postby stuworx » Tue Oct 21, 2014 18:38

Thanks for that I'll look out for it.

I love altbier and dusseldorf. Just booked flights to go in January.

There's also another brewpub called kurzer. I think its fairly new, definitely more modern inside than the others. Their alt was really good. I got more chocolate flavours?

I have an alt conditioning now. From test tasting prior to bottling I don't really have much hope for it. Think I got too adventurous with ingredients. But we'll see...


Drinking: Nothing
Conditioning: Kolsch, Dusseldorf Altbier, Golden Ale, Hefeweizen
Fermenting: Amber Ale
Planning: ESB, Elderberry BW
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Re: Altbier by Horst Dornbusch

Postby Dennis King » Tue Oct 21, 2014 19:29

Nice write up RD. Never tried this style but you have made me want to try it.
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