Northern German Altbier Home Brew Review

Brewing mistakes are more easily detected in the works of others…

Brewers are fast at pointing out what others are doing wrong, but never stop to look at their own brewing practices and figure out what THEY themselves are doing wrong…

Renaissance genius Leonardo Da Vinci looked at his paintings through a mirror so the reverse image appeared visually to be the work of someone else.

That helped him better judge his own work…

Over the last couple of years I’ve been looking for better ways to judge my own brews and I’ve come up with a set of Da Vinci brewing mirrors to help me better judge and improve my beers…

One of the most effective ways I’ve found is to find the closest commercial example of the beer you are trying to brew…

it doesn’t have to have the same exact hop character or malt character, but if you brew an IPA, find another IPA… if you brew a blonde ale, find another blonde ale…

Just something general…

A few days before you go pop open your first brew, start getting familiar with the commercial beer…

On tasting day, set up a triangle test…

Use glassware that doesn’t allow you to see the beer… beer steins work great, or coffee mugs…

Have someone pour a sample of the commercial beer, a sample of your brew and here’s the key one, a mixed sample…

When you do this, you can write notes about all three beers and point out the flaws and strong points of each… if you are honest enough, you’ll see the flaws of your beer in the mixed sample…

I did this with my Northern German Altbier compared to Alaskan amber ale…

The beers were pretty similar and it was actually hard to even distinguish my own from the mixed sample…

This allowed me however to take good notes and here’s what I found…

I nailed it!

Just kidding…

Surprisingly, I found the body of my brew to be slightly lighter than I expected it to be…

On my notes I actually wrote that as a good thing because it made the beer easier to drink… (not realizing it was mine)

When I was looking for my beer, I was expecting mine to stand out by a slightly heavier body, but that wasn’t the case…

I mashed this beer at 152 °F as opposed to 149 °F to keep a little more body… but the beer attenuated fully and I think that’s what gave it the impression of a slightly lighter bodied beer…

The difference is not much, but I’d like to compare it in the future by mashing at 154-156 °F, at some point to see if that can make it more Northern like…

Aside from this taste test, a couple other observations I made about this beer was the fermentation characteristic…

I used WLP835 German Lager ‘X’ and at 60 °F it fermented with good ale like characteristics… in fact, the characteristics were so good I plan on using this yeast strain in future brews…

One of the biggest differences you’ll notice when you ferment with lager yeast strains over ale yeast strains is that lager yeast strains make your fermentor reek like rotten eggs…

This is because lager yeast strains produce more sulfur than ale yeast strains… however, one thing I’ve been noticing is that this is only when you ferment at lower temperatures…

When I first decided to experiment with WLP835 as a hybrid yeast strain and ferment at 60 °F (essentially ale temperature), I was a bit concerned about the yeast developing too many esters and too much sulfur…

Since I brewed all my lagers this winter with this yeast strain, I was able to notice that the levels of sulfur produced at 60 °F were much, much lower than they were at 48 °F where I fermented my other brews…

In hindsight, I’m going to pay a bit more attention to my ales, because I think even some ale yeast strains tend to produce more sulfur when you ferment at lower temperatures… probably something I’ll have to keep an eye out this fall when I get back into ales…

Last, I want to share one more thing about how I used this Northern German altbier to improve my brewing… note that I used the same exact grain bill as I did for my regular amber ale… also note that I used the same exact hop profile I used for my German lager…

This allows me to look at my beer from three different perspectives… something Da Vinci used to do with all of his artwork to better understand his work…

When you start to become more advanced with your brewing, you are going to improve your brewing by looking at the little details that are holding you back…

For months, I’d been trying to figure out why I couldn’t get a lager with that German or Czech like signature…

When you think about it, how much can you really change when you are brewing with nothing but pilsner malt, noble hops, and a lager yeast strain…

Most brewers think the secret is in the water… and while it does play a big part, after trying decoction mashing, infusion mashing, soft water, hard water and every possible combination, I found that the hop character was the one thing holding my beer back…

So I will recommend again, if you haven’t already done so, I recommend you try brewing your lagers with aged hops

Cheers!

2 Comments

  • Tom

    Reply Reply December 22, 2014

    Hey Jorge, You bring a “GOOD” common sense approach to brewing beer and that is something that is lacking in a lot of magazines and books that I have read (and I have plenty). I will have to say that brewing beer “IS” indeed a science but some people have takin’ this craft to a level of “Rocket Science”.

    I have tried a lot of this “Rocket Science” stuff and for the most part it doesn’t make better beer. I’ve found that just using the basics (with common sense) works great! Brew it! Drink it! If it doesn’t taste right, Tweak it!

    Thank you for what you do!!! Tom

    • jorgitoz

      Reply Reply December 23, 2014

      Right?? I had to read most of the literature about seven times before I understood what they were trying to day… Haha. Thank you for the appreciation 😉

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