How to Brew a Northern German Altbier

To brew a Northern German Altbier, you can take a recipe from one of your favorite Amber ales…

I used mine…

… and use a lager yeast strain like Wyeast 2112 California Lager or WLP810 San Francisco lager or any non-sulfur producing lager strain…

I decided to experiment with WLP 835 German lager X…

… and decided to up the Munich 10 °L Malt.

The recipe ended up as

6 lbs German Pilsner malt
2 lbs Munich 10 °L
0.75 lbs Crystal 120 °L
0.5 lbs Crystal 60 °L

1 oz Czech Saaz hops (aged 2 months)

RO Water
0.25 tsp Gypsum
0.5 tsp Calcium Chloride

Mashed @ 152 °F 60 min
60 minute boil

Ferment @ 60 °F

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know a perfect brewer…

… and personally I don’t want to become a perfect brewer… that would be too boring for me…

I like when things get a bit complicated and I can tackle whatever comes at me…

… as the saying goes… success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm…

One of the things I like to do in my videos and newsletters is talk openly about the hurdles I come across…

I figured if I make a mistake or come across a brewing challenge, I’m not the first one and I won’t be the last…

One of the most common challenges for home brewers is efficiency… making sure they a) convert all their grain starches into sugar… and b) making sure they extract as much sugar as they can…

See one thing I enjoy more than anything is brewing by intuition… I have tools, but I force myself to use the best one of all, the brain… intuition…

I brewed a Northern German Altbier, and as I was collecting my second runnings, I realized that the wort was lighter than it should be…

How, could I tell?

Intuition… I’ve mashed these same grains before (I used my amber ale recipe), and I knew the wort should be darker…

I don’t need a hydrometer or refractometer to tell me that…

I went back to my mash tun, gave it a good stir to mix everything well, and voila… the wort got the right color…

… and I’ve found that a low efficiency for many brewers is many times a result of not mixing their sparge water well with the grains…

Stirring the mash is important for efficiency!

Now, a little bit about this beer… When I started to put together the recipe for this beer, I wanted to venture out a little bit… see my Amber Ale grain bill is pretty much the same minus the Munich malt…

Unless you decide to do a decoction mash, you’ll get mostly a grainy sweet pils flavor and aroma from the German pilsner malt. Frankly, I didn’t think that to be necessary, not to mention I am not looking for the decoction mash flavor in this style…

I think instead, a good addition of Munich would do the trick…

The problem is that 1.25 lbs of crystal malt will stand out fairly well… and I debated whether adding simply 1 lb of Munich or go for a full 2 lbs…

In retrospect, I’m thinking 1 lb would’ve been sufficient, but I am using aged hops for my beer… and one thing I noticed is that the bitterness is a bit stronger when using beta acids…

Since I don’t have much information on how much that bitterness increases as the hops age, I am gambling and expecting the bitterness to be slightly higher, which is why I opted for a full 2 lbs of Munich 10 °L…

That would enhance the sweet malt character of the beer in case the hop bitterness gets wild…

Now, the yeast strain is a bit tricky. WLP835 German Lager “X” is a fairly new yeast strain… so my experience with it is limited…

However, from the last few batches I brewed using this strain, I noticed the yeast is very clean and sulfur production is minimum…

I did ferment the beers using a controlled slow temperature increase (started at 48 °F and raised it to 55 °F over a period of 10 days) so ester production at the beginning was minimal…

I don’t know how the yeast will behave in this case since I’m starting fermentation at 60 °F…

I expect more esters and sulfur to be produced, but as with every new yeast strain you never know until you try…

If you want to try a beer like this you can play it safe with a hybrid lager yeast strain (California lager or San Francisco lager)… or you can opt for German ale yeast…

Historic styles like this sometimes get muddled up with language translations… The rumor is that this beer style was essentially the “OLD” ale of Germany… brewed and fermented as an Ale and lagered at cold temperatures…

Nowadays, it is more common to brew this beer with lager yeast strains, but an ale yeast strain may be the choice if you want to find out what it was like if the rumors are true…

Cheers!

2 Comments

  • vera

    Reply Reply February 7, 2013

    Love the Video Jorge. I really like that hop bag that you are using with the “clip in” frame. Where did you find that, or what is it called?

    • Jorge

      Reply Reply February 7, 2013

      I actually made that… very simple… It’s an aluminum based vent coupler, a cloth hanger, two screws to put it together and a paint strainer bag held by a clamp.

Leave A Response

* Denotes Required Field