Today is the last day my rail pass is valid, so to celebrate (mourn?) I am on the high-speed ICE traveling without any particular aim. Fortunately, I brought with me three altbiers, Niederrhein, Oscar Maxxum, and Hannen.
Altbier is the competitor of kölsch, traditionally brewed in Düsseldorf. Together with kölsch it is one of the only top-fermented beers in Germany (other than wheat beer). While a great kölsch is pale, clean, and fresh almost like water, the best alts have a deep amber color and a strong, flavorful malt presence. Altbier literally means “old beer”, recognizing the fact that prior to the invention of pilsner malt all beer was dark. Düsseldorf was proud of their ale brewing tradition and refused to switch to the pale lagers that the rest of the world is inordinately obsessed with. Köln I guess took the middle path?
From the town of Korschenbroich, the brewery Kraushof-Vertriebs produces the Niederrhein Alt (literally “lower Rhein alt”).
The Niederrhein is a golden copper color and lightly hazy. The thick and creamy beige head lasts and leaves a lacing on the glass. The nose is fruity with hops, an exotic yet familiar dark fruit. There is a caramel malt aroma that gets somewhat confused in the fruit. Unfortunately there is a bit of a papery character that disrupts the otherwise interesting aroma.
The flavor is full of spicy hops that come through as cumin, pepper, and some oregano. The malt contributes toast and some sweetness. The palate is just a little bit thick, and the cardboard character is somewhat present in the taste as well. It may just be that this bottle is a little old, but it claims to be good until October, though that may mean it was brewed last October.
Next up, the Hannen Alt (since 1725, supposedly), from Mönchengladbach, brewed and bottled for Carlsberg Deutschland. This alt pours a brilliantly clear ruddy copper. The meager off-white head does leave a decent lacing. The aroma is largely cardboard, though some caramel gets through and just the slightest bit of herbal hops.
The greasy cardboard flavor leaves quite a bit to be desired. Some earthy hops come through, and a bit of caramel and toast from the malt. The palate is full and sweet, but still refreshing. This one says it will be good till next May, so there’s no excuse for age.
The last alt I will try tonight is the Oscar Maxxum, brewed for Trinkgut, a beverage discounter based in Krefeld. This alt is a brilliantly clear copper color. There is some off-white head but it is gone quickly. The nose is lively. There is a definite hop presence that manifests itself as dark fruit as well as spices and herbs, making for an intriguing aroma. Some sweet malt character rounds it out.
The flavor is, unfortunately, not quite as significant as the aroma. There is some caramel from the malt and an herbal hop flavor, but it seems a little bit flat. There is also a relatively strong bitterness that somewhat makes up for it. The palate is full, but the carbonation keeps it lively. Given that this is the house brand for a discounter, I am heartily impressed.