This week’s beer is Uerige Alt Unfiltered, brewed by the Obergärige Hausbrauerei Uerige in Düsseldorf, Germany. The brewery, one of nine altbier brewpubs in the Rhineland capital, specializes in dark ales. Zum Uerige, the townhouse where brewing continues to this day, was purchased in 1862 by braumeister Wilhelm Cürten, also known as uerige Willem, or “grumpy William,” so-named for his reclusiveness. The Uerige brauhaus changed hands several times over the years and was burned to the ground during World War II and then later rebuilt in 1949.
Altbier, also known as Düsseldorf alt, is a traditional German ale most closely associated with the eponymous city. Altbier is an ancient brew, hence the appellation of alt, or “old,” in reference to the old style of brewing. The name was adopted in response to the sudden popularity of lagers in the mid-19th century, which threatened the existence of old-fashioned ales. The first brewery to use the name altbier was the Schumacher brewery, which opened in 1838 in Düsseldorf.
Uerige Alt Unfiltered (nicht filtriert) is the brewery’s regular altbier mit Hefe, or “with yeast.” In addition to giving beer a cloudy appearance, suspended matter may add body and flavor. German hefeweizen are perhaps best known for being made this way and often have a tart flavor akin to bread dough in addition to the usual flavors. Uerige Alt is fermented with ale yeast but lagered for a relatively long time at relatively cool temperatures. The use of ale yeast often gives beer fruity flavors, unlike lager which tends to be ‘cleaner.’ Altbier is a hybrid in this regard, and may not have very pronounced fruitiness.
According to the brewery, Uerige Alt is made with barley malt, caramel malt, and roasted malt. Although unspecified, the barley malt is probably pilsner, which is a base malt with a delicate grainy and honey-like character. Caramel and roasted malt are typically used in small amounts for color but in larger amounts can contribute bittersweet caramel and coffee-like flavors respectively. The brewery uses Hallertau and Spalt hops, two popular German noble varieties. Hallertau is good for bittering and has a subtle flower, spice, and citrus aroma. Spalt can be used as an alternative to Saaz (commonly found in Bohemian pilsners) and is spicy, floral, and fruity.
Düsseldorf altbier typically showcases firm, complex maltiness and German noble hop character. The hop aroma may be floral and perfume-like but is typically restrained. While the hop flavors are also fairly low, the bitterness is usually quite high. A good altbier will strike a balance between the rich malt and the substantial bitterness. In terms of appearance, it is usually copper-hued with a thick, long-lasting, off-white head.
Uerige Alt Unfiltered appears very hazy and dark brown with orange-ish highlights. The dense, off-white head retains its lumpy shape for a long time. The aroma is somewhat sour with grainy malt and caramel. The flavor is dominated by assertive, moderately sweet, bready malt. It’s fairly bitter and a little metallic. The finish is grainy with a puckering woodiness. It’s medium bodied with a good deal of frothy carbonation and bite.
The flavor seems skewed in favor of the sourness and bitterness at first, but after a few sips the malt becomes more apparent and strikes a good balance with the other flavors. It’s very crisp and super drinkable (especially with only 4.7% abv). I would have liked to try the regular alt first to see how much of a difference the sediment makes. I imagine there is less sourness in its aroma and flavor. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of tasty malt in this one to make it enjoyable, and the bitterness plays its part well without overpowering the maltiness.
Today’s beer was purchased at Tanakaya in Mejiro, just a couple minutes’ walk from Mejiro station in Tokyo.