Altbier. Tasty, tasty, underappreciated altbier. Want to please a diverse crowd? No, it’s not Pilsner or IPA you need, it’s Altbier. Need a year-round go-to? Altbier. It’s the nectar of the gods.
Although widely available and widely consumed, this hybrid amber defies the well-known dichotomy of beer categories. Arising out of Dusseldorf in the Westphalia region of Germany (an area not affected by the beer purity law of 1516), the beer is made using top-fermenting yeast – what we’ve come to call ale yeast. Over time, though, the yeast evolved to tolerate lower temperatures, so the brewing process changed to include a period of lagering as a finishing step.
Altbier embodies a powerful combination of traditional German malts and Noble hops, resulting in the gold standard of beer balance with characteristic toasted notes and often a subtle fruity component. Altbier is typically of medium body with some degree of a lingering but dry finish. Optional flavor variations can include mild nuttiness, earthy and peppery hop complexities, or even mild sulfur. Northern Altbiers, compared to those of Dusseldorf, are typically a bit darker and sweeter. Munster Altbiers, on the other hand, are often lower in alcohol and slightly sour.
“Alt” means old in German, a reference to the “old” way of brewing ales before the technique of lagering was perfected. Sticke Alts, as they are affectionately called, are not recognized as a style of their own, but instead are grouped into the larger Altbier family:
“A darker, stronger and hoppier version of the Düsseldorf Alt. ‘Sticke’ is sometimes said to mean secret in the local dialect, though Uerige [the famous Alt brewery] states that the term comes from “stickum”, the local dialect term for “whispering”, based on the story that that when tasting the strong beer, the customers would whisper to each other that the brewmaster must have been a little too generous when weighing out the ingredients. Sticke Alts are often dry-hopped in the conditioning tank for four to six weeks.” – Greg Roe, Missing BJCP Styles
It was only a matter of time before “Sticke” would be used in reference to something hockey related, and frankly, I’m surprised that it took this long. But leave it to Minnesota to do so, and in a wonderful way. Summit Brewing Company released their Penalty Box mixed 12-pack with the new release, High Sticke Alt, which is exclusive to the mixed pack.
High Sticke Alt is, without a doubt, one of the most sensational releases of 2017. The specs on this thing scream classic, with a higher ABV, 7.5%, typical of the Sticke variation. With the aroma of caramelized sugar, light roast coffee, and a faint herbal, wintergreen-like, note, it’s clear that the malt complexity is the focus. The hops anchor the glass and add a moderately bitter finish that’s brief. The first sips deliver a toasted Grape Nuts flavor with the typical earthy and peppery finish of Noble hops.