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Altbier. Please explain it to me.

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binkman

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I have done quite a bit of research on altbier, including Ray Daniel's book, J.Z.'s book and podcast concerning the style, and anything else I could get my hands on including a Michael Jackson article and I even found a (purported) clone of Zum Uerige.

It seems that generally modern breweries and homebrewers are using pilsner malt as a base malt. Industrial breweries are using something like 10% Munich malts and 90% Pilsener malts, with maybe some caramel malts and dark malts to adjust for color. Homebrewers seem to add a dash of caramunich and huskless carafa to the same effect (Daniels chapter 14, esp. 130-131).

Here's what I am confused about, and it sort of involves the seemingly endless variety of Munich malts out there. If you put together a grist of 90% Pilsener and 10% Munich (whether of the 5.5 L, 10L or 20L variety) you get nowhere near the right color for an alt. More like 3-4 SRM than 11-19 SRM which is the range for the alts as a whole. Apparently, some brewers add caramel coloring, or used to do this more often, until the debittered dark malts became available for color adjustment. The question is: why?

To make it darker, yes, but why bother making it appear darker unless there was already a tradition of it being in that color range to begin with? Those debittered dark malts won't add much flavor. They are really just meant for color adjustment. And if such a tradition of 11-19 SRM ales existed prior to this artificial coloring, how was the color originally obtained? I expect it had something to do with a now-extinct brewing or malting method, but I can't find any information.

There are a few possibilities. The first is the use of a dark Munich malt (like Belgian Dark Munich Malt at around 10L) which should still be self-converting, while contributing the right color. Alternatively, the base beer might have been pretty light, with some kind of darker malt added in lower frequencies. But I can't figure out for the life of me why it would have changed and brewers would have used caramel to color the beer to simulate the proper appearance.

At the same time, I'm pretty confused by the different Munich malts. There's the German Munich base malt of 5.5L, then there are three German CaraMunichs. And that's not to mention that in the US we have a 10L and 20L Munich malt. Of the three, 5.5, 10, and 20, which is the more traditional base malt? Are 10 and 20 just slightly roasted versions of 5.5? I have a sneaking suspicion that the original alt base malt wasn't Pilsener (at least not everywhere) but was rather a 'Munich' malt. But then, I'm not even really sure I understand the difference between Munich and Pilsner in biological or malting terms. Or Vienna for that matter.

Is there a good resource for understanding those German malts on more than a deeper level?

And what was altbier like in 1700? Why did brewers begin adding caramel for color? Were they simulating something else? What was the something else? Was Pilsner always the traditional base malt?

I'm so confused. :drunk:
 

BrewMU

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I'm trying my first Alt tomorrow. I'm going with a little more Munich (10 L) than pils malt, plus a little bit (1-2 #s) of caraMunich. I'm going to run the numbers, but I figure something like this:
7#s Munich
4#s Pils malt
1.5#CaraMunich
I'm using Wyeast 1007 German Ale and noble hops (Hallertauer and Tettnang), mostly for long boil.
I don't know if you've had any (it's ridiculously hard to find in the mid-west, despite all of us Krauts here), but it was my favorite in Germany: dry, bitter, and smooth as a young Fraulein's.. well you get the idea. Good stuff.

Btw, as far as I can tell, caraMunich is the German version of caramel/crystal malt - Weyerman has three grades, 30L, 40L, and the 50L, called 1, 2 and 3.
 

hopplease

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I went to Uerige brewery a couple weeks ago.


My goal to brew an altbier this winter. So I will be interested in where this thread goes.

I have attached a couple pics from my trip. Enjoy.

IMG_2782.jpg


DSCN1900.jpg


DSCN1901.jpg
 
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binkman

binkman

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Take pictures to share and try to figure out what malts they use and whether or not they decoct. So jealous! :mug:
I've been there many times. They always have a 5' tall pile of steaming grains on the street out front (the altstadt is all pedestrian-only roads).

I'll see if I can get a tour. Sure wish I spoke german.
 

pjj2ba

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There is quite a bit of variation in color. The link below has pictures of all of the Alts from the brewpubs in the Alstadt.

Summer 09 European Beer Tour

My alt is 90:10 Pils:Munich, and 2 oz of debittered black malt. Sometimes some caramunich, sometimes not. I have found most American alts to be way too sweet/rich
 

jkarp

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I was also at Brauerei Uerige a few weeks ago. Crummy pic through the glass but I'd never in my life seen so much copper. Also note how they keep your tab - a simple check on your coaster for each beer.

Damn cool place.

IMG_7829.jpg


IMG_7840.jpg
 

cyberbackpacker

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As for color, I have also read where some alts were brewed with %100 "light" munich (german maltsters) with a prolonged boil. This is the route I have taken with my own alt recipe attempts. I end up with a very nice copper colored alt that very closely mimics what is seen in post #4.
 

badhabit

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Alts have a long history...sounds like you have been doing your homework on that point. My understanding is that when the brewers in Braveria started brewing Alts they became much lighter, almost Helle like, than they were in the north. I am not sure that there is a RIGHT answer to how dark...I'm headed to Dusseldorf next fall to find out for myself. Might want to check out the German Beer Institute web site, good information there about style history.
 

teucer

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Just brew this, it's awesome.
Mine goes into the keg tomorrow, and it smells delightful. Had to jury-rig a swamp cooler to brew it cool enough, but I'm pretty sure it's going to have been well worth the effort.
 

teucer

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Alts have a long history.
You can say that again. Alts were the original lagerbiers, before the isolation of bottom-fermenting yeast. A lot can be done with cold-brewed top-fermenting German beer involving high-kilned malts, and all of it is very probably part of the style's historical tradition. The modern Dusseldorf version of the style is a particular slice of that, and an absolutely delicious one.
 
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binkman

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I'm going to try a 50:50 grist of Dark Munich (10L) and either Aromatic (20L) or Dark Munich that's been (carefully, so as to preserve some diastatic power) roasted in my oven up to around 20L. Since Aromatic is a munich-type malt I might try it instead of home-roasting. That would put me in the right ballpark for color without having to use special debittered dark malts. The color would come from high-kilned base malts alone. The long-boil route also strikes me as an interesting way to go.

I wonder if that grist would benefit from a Hochkurz decoction?
 

wildwest450

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Mine goes into the keg tomorrow, and it smells delightful. Had to jury-rig a swamp cooler to brew it cool enough, but I'm pretty sure it's going to have been well worth the effort.
After you taste it, i'd bet money there's a chest freezer/fermenter in your future.


_
 
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binkman

binkman

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As for color, I have also read where some alts were brewed with %100 "light" munich (german maltsters) with a prolonged boil. This is the route I have taken with my own alt recipe attempts. I end up with a very nice copper colored alt that very closely mimics what is seen in post #4.
That makes it sound just like a Scottish Ale, except with Munich malt. It makes sense that modern brewers would avoid long boils and simulate them with the addition of debittered dark malts. I suppose your longer boil is really promoting melanoidin formation.

How long is your boil and how do you manage it?
 
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It seems that generally modern breweries and homebrewers are using pilsner malt as a base malt. Industrial breweries are using something like 10% Munich malts and 90% Pilsener malts, with maybe some caramel malts and dark malts to adjust for color. Homebrewers seem to add a dash of caramunich and huskless carafa to the same effect (Daniels chapter 14, esp. 130-131).

Here's what I am confused about, and it sort of involves the seemingly endless variety of Munich malts out there. If you put together a grist of 90% Pilsener and 10% Munich (whether of the 5.5 L, 10L or 20L variety) you get nowhere near the right color for an alt. More like 3-4 SRM than 11-19 SRM which is the range for the alts as a whole. Apparently, some brewers add caramel coloring, or used to do this more often, until the debittered dark malts became available for color adjustment. The question is: why?
I tried mixing 9lbs pilsner and 1lb munich (so 90:10 ratio) and I get 11 SRM. Normally munich is around 9-10 SRM, but as you see, there are some varieties.

The reason why it's made dark now with color additions is simply to make it, "to style". However, in the past when malted grains were dried in Germany by woodfire it was likely less precise and the imperfect process likely produced a pilsner grain darker than 1 or 2 SRM. Likely closer to a light pale malt. That would give you a considerably darker beer. It's also possible that it was artificially colored from the beginning just to make it different from weizens or competing lagers.

To make it darker, yes, but why bother making it appear darker unless there was already a tradition of it being in that color range to begin with? Those debittered dark malts won't add much flavor. They are really just meant for color adjustment. And if such a tradition of 11-19 SRM ales existed prior to this artificial coloring, how was the color originally obtained? I expect it had something to do with a now-extinct brewing or malting method, but I can't find any information.
See above. As kiln drying became more modern it became more precise and obviously the lighter pilsner malt color won. As a result, to keep it looking the same color is added.

At the same time, I'm pretty confused by the different Munich malts. There's the German Munich base malt of 5.5L, then there are three German CaraMunichs. And that's not to mention that in the US we have a 10L and 20L Munich malt. Of the three, 5.5, 10, and 20, which is the more traditional base malt? Are 10 and 20 just slightly roasted versions of 5.5? I have a sneaking suspicion that the original alt base malt wasn't Pilsener (at least not everywhere) but was rather a 'Munich' malt. But then, I'm not even really sure I understand the difference between Munich and Pilsner in biological or malting terms. Or Vienna for that matter.
They are kilned to different temperatures (pilsner, munich and vienna). It produces different flavors. There are different colors of munich because there's a demand for variety of flavor and color. Caramunich goes through the same partial mash process to create dextrins before it is kilned to the proper color. This allows you to get the same kind of flavors in munich and dextrins for head retention and body.
 

cyberbackpacker

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That makes it sound just like a Scottish Ale, except with Munich malt. It makes sense that modern brewers would avoid long boils and simulate them with the addition of debittered dark malts. I suppose your longer boil is really promoting melanoidin formation.

How long is your boil and how do you manage it?
I first do a decoction from protein rest (generally 151) to mash out (170).

I then do a 120 minute boil.
 
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binkman

binkman

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I first do a decoction from protein rest (generally 151) to mash out (170).

I then do a 120 minute boil.
So mash-in at protein rest, then decoct to 151, then decoct to mash-out?

I'm thinking of doing a few different iterations of an altbier over the winter, just to see what works best. I think I might try your 100% light munich decoction and 2 hour boil this weekend. Maybe later I will try home-roasting some of the grist as well. Or maybe just subbing some dark (10L) munich into the grist, or even some 20L.

Is there a difference between melanoidins formed by roasting a grain and those formed through decoction and boiling?
 

cyberbackpacker

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So mash-in at protein rest, then decoct to 151, then decoct to mash-out?
Yes, that is what I have done for the last 3-4 iterations of this recipe. I believe this is what I will stick too. I am still play with hopping (so far prefer a tett/saaz combo), but I am pretty solid with the rest of the recipe with regards color, maltiness, and body.

Edit: Oh, and my protein rest is short... just long enough to raise the decoction to 151.
 

teucer

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I wonder if that grist would benefit from a Hochkurz decoction?
The one way in which I deviated from the Kaiser recipe on mine was a Schmitz decoction (thin mash, directly heat it all to a conversion temperature, draw off the enzyme-rich water on top, boil the solids in the water that still surrounds them, cool that off until you can recombine and use the enzyme water to convert it all) instead of the suggested decoction mashout. I did it that way because I wanted to get a lot of decoction-mash flavors out of my Alt. I'm definitely in favor of some kind of decoction mash schedule for anything trying to get a central European flavor, and I'm on a melanoidins/high-kilned kick right now so an all-high-kilned alt with plenty of cooked grain taste added during mashing definitely feeds that particular itch nicely.
 
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binkman

binkman

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The one way in which I deviated from the Kaiser recipe on mine was a Schmitz decoction (thin mash, directly heat it all to a conversion temperature, draw off the enzyme-rich water on top, boil the solids in the water that still surrounds them, cool that off until you can recombine and use the enzyme water to convert it all) instead of the suggested decoction mashout. I did it that way because I wanted to get a lot of decoction-mash flavors out of my Alt.
Do you heat your mash directly? I mash in a 10-gallon igloo cooler, so I'm not sure a Schmitz would be practical. For that matter, I can hardly find any information on a Schmitz decoction, but I think I understand it in principle. I'd be afraid the enzymes would deactivate before I added the decoction back to them.
 

teucer

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Do you heat your mash directly? I mash in a 10-gallon igloo cooler, so I'm not sure a Schmitz would be practical. For that matter, I can hardly find any information on a Schmitz decoction, but I think I understand it in principle. I'd be afraid the enzymes would deactivate before I added the decoction back to them.
I went with approximately the schedule described in this article, and I did it in my brewing kettle. I put all the grains in, added enough water to make a fairly thin mash with extra liquid on top of it, and heated it all up to just over 150. Then I drew off all the liquid on top, leaving a mash with only liquid up to the level of the mash solids, and set that aside. I boiled the solids in the surrounding fluid, then chilled it until it was cool enough to mix with the reserved liquid and hit a reasonable conversion temperature (I wound up going with 155). Then I poured everything into my mash tun and sparged it to draw off five gallons of liquid. The resulting beer has an intensely malty flavor.
 

TarheelBrew13

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Just to throw in my two cents. We have a local brewery here in Charlotte, NC, Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, that specializes in alt and the owner lived there for some time. I can't tell you much about the history but I have had the same questions about color as the OP and have come to a similar conclusion.

As for the way they brew it here. The owner swears he follows the same brew techniques as the breweries in Dusseldorf. They use Pilsner, Crystal 60(I think), Munich and Carafa II (for color). Also, they use a tripple decoction mash, heating a portion of the mash to boil and then returning it.

Hope this is useful for you.
 
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