The Altbier is a moderately colored bitter beer that is balanced by a rich maltiness. It has a long-lasting dry, malty-rich finish. It is not a very popular style among craft breweries, which is a shame because it is truly a wonderful beer style that deserves the same popularity that the next closest style has – the Vienna lager. The style guidelines are below.
- Original Gravity: 1.044 – 1.052
- Final Gravity: 1.008 – 1.014
- Alcohol by Volume: 4.3% – 5.5%
- Bitterness: 25 – 50 IBU
- Color (SRM): 9 – 17
The Altbier is known for its rich maltiness, so use Munich malts as your base. The Munich malt can be up to 100% of your base malt, but since the guidelines call for a dry finish many brewers cut it with some German Pils malt. It is a good idea to start with a 50/50 split of Munich and German Pils malt for your first batch and make adjustments from there.
For the specialties, I would use a caramel Munich malt and a very small amount of pale chocolate. The caramel Munich malt will add rich bready, nutty, toasty notes. The pale chocolate helps with the color.
The Altbier is known as a bitter European beer, so there should be a medium to high level of bitterness. I would add between 30-35 IBUs worth of a German noble hop at 60 minutes. German brewers traditionally use spalt, but you can use any noble hop. Hop flavor and aroma are generally low, but what is noticeable needs to be from a noble hop.
For the Altbier, use a clean strain that promotes malty flavors. The following are good choices.
- German Ale II Yeast – WLP003 (White Labs)
- German/Kolsch Ale Yeast – WLP029 (White Labs)
- German Ale – Wyeast 1007
Last but not least, the water. I use a reverse osmosis filtration system for all beers I brew and build up my water profile from scratch. My water profile looked like this:
- Calcium: 50 ppm
- Sodium: 15 ppm
- Sulfates: 110 ppm
- Chloride: 50 ppm
The following is a 5-gallon version of an Altbier. The numbers for this beer are listed below.
- Original Gravity: 1.048
- Final Gravity: 1.008 – 1.014
- Alcohol by Volume: 4.8%
- Bitterness: 37.5 IBU
- Color (SRM): 13.0
- Munich Malt – 4 lbs (43.7%)
- German Pils – 4 lbs (43.7%)
- Caramel Munich I Malt – 1 lb (10.9%)
- Pale Chocolate – 2.4 oz (1.6%)
- 2 oz of Spalt at 60 minutes (33.9 IBUs)
- 0.5 oz of Hallertauer Mittelfruh at 15 minutes (3.5 IBUs)
German Ale – Wyeast 1007
Altbiers are traditionally brewed using step mashes. If following a step mash, add your salts and acids, if needed, and heat your strike water of 2.9 gallons to 132 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature should drop to 122 degrees Fahrenheit and hold there for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes at 122 degrees, raise the temperature to 148 degrees and hold for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes at 148 degrees, heat the mash up to 156 degrees and hold for 30 minutes. Finally, after 30 minutes at 156 degrees, heat the mash up to 168 degrees to mash out and begin to transfer to the boil kettle. Sparge with 5.3 gallons, or until you reach a pre-boil gravity of 1.041.
You can get by with a single infusion mash if you don’t have the time and/or equipment. If doing a single infusion mash, add your salts and pH adjustment, if needed, and fill your mash tun to the required volume and temperature for your mash to drop to 148 degrees Fahrenheit. For me, the strike water was 2.9 gallons at 159 degrees Fahrenheit. After 75 minutes, raise your mash temperature to 168 degrees for mash out. After mashing out, begin to sparge the same as above.
Boil the wort for 90 minutes and add the hops in as needed. At 10 minutes, I added a yeast nutrient, and at 5 minutes I added whirlfloc tablets as my clarifying agent. Once the boil is complete, whirlpool the wort for 10 minutes and then let it wind down for 10 minutes.
Knock the wort out in your heat exchanger so that the pitching temperature is 60 degrees and measure the gravity/pitch the yeast. Initial gravity should be around 1.048. Let the temperature free rise up to 64 degrees and hold through fermentation. Once you are within 5 specific gravity points from your target FG, let the temperature free rise up to 72 degrees. After 48 hours, cold crash to 33 degrees and hold it there for another 48 hours. Once your cold crash is complete, transfer it to the brite tank and carbonate it to 2.8 vols. After 3 days in the brite tank, keg it and enjoy!
If you decide to try this recipe, or another Altbier recipe, feel free to send us a comment and let us know how it went! And if you want to see more recipes like this, sign up for our newsletter below to be notified when a new post is released. Cheers!