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Measuring pH
Measuring pH

Brewing an Altbier

Grains #1/2: German Pilsner malt, Munich malt & Melanoidin malt
Grains #1/2:
– German Pilsner malt
– Munich malt
– Melanoidin malt

Previously in this series of articles on How to brew different Styles of Beer? we covered Brewing a Kölsch, this time the Beer Style comes from the ‘Amber, Hoppy European Beer’ category in the BJCP 2014 Guidelines and is the style of an Altbier.

In the following sections we are going to examine different aspects of this style such as its background, the style guidelines, ingredients used, sample recipes, brewing process, and finally the outcome of brewing a batch of this beer.


This style of beer originates from the German city of Düsseldorf and the name Altbier translates as “Old Beer”. According to the BJCP its name refers to the old style of brewing i.e. with top-fermenting ale yeast as opposed to bottom-fermenting lager yeast.

This style is brewed in a similar manner to Kölsch in that it is generally fermented at cooler temperatures and then lagered to help produce a cleaner and smoother beer.

Grains #2/2: Vienna malt & Chocolate Wheat malt
Grains #2/2:
– Vienna malt
– Chocolate Wheat malt

Commercial examples of this style include Zum Uerige, Im Füchschen, Schumacher, Zum Schlüssel, Schlösser Alt, Bolten Alt, Diebels Alt, Frankenheim Alt, Southampton Alt, and BluCreek Altbier.


In the BJCP 2008 Style Guidelines there were two kinds of Altbiers grouped in the ‘Amber Hybrid Beer’ category (see here), these were the Düsseldorf Altbier and the Northern German Altbier with the key difference being whether they were produced within the city of Düsseldorf or outside respectively. In the revised 2014 Guidelines these two versions are merged into one style as follows:

BJCP 2014 BJCP 2008
Category 7: Amber, Hoppy European Beer
7: Amber Hybrid Beer
Styles 7A: Vienna Lager
7B: Altbier 7A: Northern German Altbier
7B: California Common Beer
7B: Altbier 7C: Düsseldorf Altbier
7C: Kellerbier

In the new guidelines the vital statistics of the Altbier are as follows:

  • Original Gravity (OG) = 1.044 – 1.052
  • Final Gravity (FG) = 1.008 – 1.014
  • Alcohol By Volume (ABV) = 4.3 – 5.5%
  • Bitterness (IBUs) = 25 – 50
  • Color (SRM) = 11 – 17
Select Spalt hops
Select Spalt hops

Given the new guidelines replace what was formerly two styles, here is how they compare to the original Northern German and Düsseldorf guidelines:

  • OG has a slightly lower starting and finishing range (2 points) than both old styles.
  • FG has a slightly lower starting and finishing range (2 points and 1 point respectively) than both old styles.
  • ABV range has been widened to have a 0.2% lower starting range and 0.3% higher finishing range than both old styles.
  • IBU range has been modified to go from the lower end of the Northern German version to the higher end of the Düsseldorf.
  • SRM uses the old Düsseldorf range which has a lower starting and finishing range (2 points) than the Northern German version.


German Ale yeast
German Ale yeast

According to the BJCP 2014 Guidelines the following are characteristic ingredients used in the brewing of an Altbier:

  • Malts: Grists vary, but usually consist of German base malts (usually Pils, sometimes Munich) with small amounts of crystal, chocolate, and/or black malts used to adjust color. Occasionally will include some wheat, including roasted wheat. A step mash or decoction mash program is traditional.
  • Hops: Spalt hops are traditional, but other Saazer-type hops can also be used.
  • Yeast: Clean, highly attenuative ale yeast.
  • Water: Moderately carbonate water.
  • Additions: Not specified.


Below are some recipes for 5 gallon batches of Altbier from leading authors in the homebrewing community together with some analysis on how they comply with the style guidelines:

– Alt –

Source: Wisdom for Home Brewers
Author: Ted Bruning & Nigel Sadler

Measuring pH
Measuring pH


  • 5.5 Lb Pilsner malt
  • 5.5 Lb Munich malt
  • 8.8 oz Vienna malt
  • 8.8 oz Melanoidin malt
  • 1.5 oz Spalt (bittering – 70 mins)
  • 1.5 oz Spalt (aroma – 0 mins)
  • German Ale yeast


  • Mash @ 149 deg F (65 deg C)
  • Boil for 75 mins
Recirculating mash
Recirculating mash


  • OG: 1.046
  • FG: 1.010
  • ABV: 4.7%
  • IBU: Not specified.
  • SRM: Not specified.


  • Malts: Base malts are split 50:50 between those within the guidelines plus some specialty malts are used to contribute to the flavor, mouth-feel and color.
  • Hops: Spalt is one of the varieties specified within the style guidelines.
  • Yeast: No specific yeast is specified here but general type guidance is provided.
  • Statistics: Bitterness and color are not specified but the gravities and alcohol content are all within style.

Cowboy Alt

Source: Brewing Classic Styles
Author: Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer

Brew-Boss controller tablet
Brew-Boss controller tablet


  • 8 Lb Pilsner malt
  • 2 Lb Munich malt
  • 1 Lb Aromatic malt
  • 0.5 Lb CaraMunich malt
  • 3.0 oz Carafa Special II malt
  • 0.8 oz Magnum hops (bittering – 60 mins)
  • 0.5 oz Tettnang hops (flavoring – 15 mins)
  • White Labs WLP036 Dusseldorf Ale yeast or Wyeast 1007 German Ale yeast


  • Mash @ 149 deg F (65 deg C) for 90 mins
  • Boil for 90 mins
Kettle coming to the boil
Kettle coming to the boil


  • OG: 1.050
  • FG: 1.013
  • ABV: 4.9%
  • IBU: 45
  • SRM: 14


  • Malts: Base malts are according to the guidelines with some additional specialty grains for color adjustment.
  • Hops: The choices here are neither Spalt nor Saazer but are German and derived variants.
  • Yeast: Both yeast choices are appropriate for the style.
  • Statistics: All the statistics are within style with bitterness being towards the top of the range.

– Long Trail Ale –

Source: CloneBrews
Author: Tess & Mark Szamatulski

Measuring Original Gravity
Measuring Original Gravity


  • 8.1 Lb British 2-row Pale malt
  • 10 oz British Crystal 55L malt
  • 0.5 oz British Chocolate malt
  • 4 oz Wheat malt
  • 0.5 oz Northern Brewer hops (bittering – 90 mins)
  • 0.3 oz Willamette hops (bittering – 45 mins)
  • 0.3 oz Mt Hood (bittering – 45 mins)
  • 0.3 oz Willamette hops (flavoring – 13 mins)
  • 0.3 oz Cascade hops (flavoring – 13 mins)
  • Wyeast 1007 German Ale yeast or Wyeast 1056 American Ale yeast


  • Mash @ 151 deg F (66 deg C) for 90 mins
  • Boil for 90 mins
  • Ferment @ 68-72 deg F (20-22 deg C)
Filling fermenter bucket
Filling fermenter bucket


  • OG: 1.047 – 1.048
  • FG: 1.011 – 1.012
  • ABV: 4.6%
  • IBU: 30
  • SRM: 11 – 12


  • Malts: British rather than German malts are used which does match the guidelines.
  • Hops: These are neither Spalt or Saazer which does not match the guidelines.
  • Yeast: Both options for yeasts are highly attenuative so within style though the German Ale yeast would seem a better fit for the style.
  • Statistics: All the statistics are within style.


The recipe chosen for brewing this batch of Altbier was Alt from Wisdom for Home Brewers due to it adhering the closest to the style guidelines on both malt bill but more importantly hop choice. Below is the actual recipe that I went with:

  • 5 Lb German Pilsner malt
  • 4.75 Lb Munich malt
  • 8 oz Vienna malt
  • 8 oz Melanoidin malt
  • 5.3 oz Chocolate Wheat malt
  • 2 oz Select Spalt hops (bittering – 75 mins)
  • White Labs WLP029 German Ale/Kölsch yeast
Brewing process steps
Brewing process steps

The amounts were tweaked for both my system but also to try hit the middle of the style ranges for each characteristic and to this end some Chocolate Wheat malt was added to adjust color and help head retention.

The 5 gallon batch of beer was brewed following these steps:

  • Charcoal filtering the borough water and leaving it to stand overnight in order to vent off the chlorine.
  • Measuring out and milling the grains, also measuring out the hops and Irish Moss.
  • Sterilizing the fermentation equipment.
  • Heating the strike water to 154 deg F before mashing-in (adding the grist to the hot water).
  • Mashing for 75 mins at 152 deg F for the Saccharification rest so the starches convert into sugars (pH 5.2).
  • Raising the temperature to 168 deg F to mash-out for 10 mins to stop enzymatic activity i.e. halt the conversion of starches to sugars.
  • Removing the grain bag.
  • Boiling for 10 mins to allow time for the hot break to clear.
  • Continue boiling for 60 mins with the bittering hop addition.
  • Adding Irish Moss at 15 mins to help clear the beer.
  • A yeast starter was prepared comprising of 8 oz of DME (Dry Malt Extract) in two liters of water and placed in a flask on a stir plate together with one packet of yeast.
  • Yeast nutrient was added to the wort once it had been cooled.
  • Wort was aerated with Oxygen (60 secs) via a diffusing stone connected to an O2 tank with a regulator.
  • Yeast starter was decanted prior to pitching into the wort so that most of the spent wort did not go into the beer.
  • Primary fermentation was at 68 deg F for one week in a temperature controlled freezer.
  • The beer was racked off the trub (sediment) into the secondary fermenter and held at 68 deg F for a second week before cold crashing with gelatine for additional clarity.
  • Beer was force carbonated to 2.5 volumes of CO2 after cooling the beer to 36 deg F.


Gelatine used to clear beer
Gelatine used to clear beer

According to the style guidelines an Altbier should have the following characteristics:

  • Appearance: The color ranges from light amber to deep copper color, stopping short of brown; bronze-orange is most common. Brilliant clarity. Thick, creamy, long-lasting off-white head.
  • Aroma: Clean yet robust and complex aroma of grainy-rich malt and spicy hops with restrained (low to medium-low) fruity esters. The malt character reflects German base malt varieties, with rich baked bread and nutty-toasty bread crust notes. The hop aroma may vary from moderate to low, and can have a peppery, spicy, floral, herbal or perfumy character associated with Saazer-type hops.
  • Flavor: Assertive hop bitterness well balanced by a sturdy yet clean and crisp malt character. The malt presence is moderated by medium-high to high attenuation, but considerable rich and complex malt flavors can remain. Some fruity esters may survive the lagering period. A long-lasting, medium-dry to dry, bittersweet or nutty finish reflects both the hop bitterness and malt complexity. Spicy, peppery or floral hop flavor can be moderate to low. No roasted malt flavors or harshness. The apparent bitterness level is sometimes masked by the malt character; the bitterness can seem as low as moderate if the finish is not very dry. Light sulfury or minerally character optional.
  • Mouth-feel: Medium-bodied. Smooth. Medium to medium-high carbonation, although can be lower when served from the cask. Astringency low to none. Despite being very full of flavor, is light-bodied enough to be consumed as a gravity-fed session beer in its home brewpubs in Düsseldorf.
  • Overall: A well-balanced, well-attenuated, bitter yet malty, clean, and smooth, amber- to copper-colored German beer. The bitterness is balanced by the malt richness, but the malt intensity and character can range from moderate to high (the bitterness increases with the malt richness).

How did my batch of Altbier turn out?

Altbier tasting sampler
Altbier tasting sampler

The original recipe had a mash temperature of 149 deg F but I upped this to 152 deg F in order to help raise the Final Gravity to the desired level and help stop the yeast from over attenuating by leaving more longer chain sugars within the wort.

As mentioned earlier some Chocolate Wheat malt was added to adjust the color but the final beer may be darker than the brewing software predicted so next time it might make more sense to steep these grains and add the tea towards the end of the boil rather than putting the grains into the mash.

Here are the actual vital statistics:

  • OG: 1.049
  • FG: 1.011
  • ABV: 4.9%
  • Bitterness: 30.8 IBUs*
  • Color: 15.6 SRM*

* calculated via BeerSmith software.

The tasting notes are as follows:

Brown in color with a thin cream head. A malty aroma. Flavor is of hop bitterness and accompanying maltiness. Medium to high carbonation with a medium body.

The actual beer tastes good with both hop bitterness and balanced maltiness so I am pleased with the end result but may get knocked a few points for the actual color when it is judged in the first round of the National Homebrewers Competition 2015…

What’s Next?

In my next article in this series I will be examining Brewing an English IPA which is in the ‘Pale English Beer’ category so please check back for that article to be published.

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