March brings springtime and slightly warmer temps, but many days still have a nip in the air, which makes Altbier a great fit for this month’s beer. Altbier lightens things up from the thick, alcohol-heavy beers of winter and bridges the gap to lighter summer beers. While not a hard and fast rule, Alts were traditionally more often made in the winter and spring months so if there’s a season for it, now’s the time.
Historically, Altbier has come from Dusseldorf and the surrounding region of Germany. It differentiates itself from other German lagers in that it uses top-fermenting yeast but still ferments at cool temperatures like bottom-fermenting lagers. The cooler temperatures result in a slower and longer fermentation. Alt means “old” in German and may refer to the longer time that it takes to make the beer or that the use of top-fermenting yeast is an older method of beer-making.
The longer fermenting and conditioning time produces a smooth, balanced beer with an amber to auburn color rarely straying into brown territory. The initial aroma should be clean and slightly malty with the potential for very light fruit esters or hop spiciness. The flavor stays true to the aroma with modest maltiness and possible hints of fruit, spice or herbs from Noble or Spalt hops. Body will be medium and alcohol will fall into the low/medium range and should not be noticeable.
Rarely, you may run across a stronger and more flavorful version called Sticke Alt. This variant has another percent or so of ABV and a more hops-forward taste.