This guide purports to tell you how to brew an authentic Altbier ("Old Beer"). The vast majority of beers brewed in Germany are Lagers. Altbier is one of the few German ales that still exists, but is only brewed in a small area in and around Dusseldorf. The style is pretty rare. I don't think you can get authentic German Altbier in the United States, so you have to brew it. I am a home brewer and have brewed this beer.
The book gives an interesting history of Altbier, description of the style, ingredients, equipment and methods of brewing. Altbier is an ale that is mashed using a 3 to as much as 5 step temperature mash, fermented at moderately low temperature (60-62F), and conditioned at lagering temperatures.
With most homebrewing books you can skip right to the recipes. Unfortunately, the recipes here are not fully developed. Instead of complete recipes the author calls them "guidelines". They are basically just ingredients and specifications. You must refer back to the text for specifics on mash schedule, boil time, hops addition timing, fermentation procedure, and conditioning instructions, as these are not included in the recipes. The author could have made it lot easier for the reader by simply including these in each recipe as most home brewing books do.
There are some inconsistencies in the book. For instance, under mashing the author states that "Total mash times for alt vary from a low of 150 to a high of 170 minutes." However, when he details the mash procedure, the mash times total no higher than 100 minutes, and the specific procedure he recommends for the home brewer is only 60 minutes total.
The biggest flaw is that most of the recipes include ingredients that would NOT be included in an authentic Altbier. In an effort to make things easier for the American home brewer, the author formulated the recipes using ingredients he thought would be easily accessible, rather than purely authentic. As a result, the recipes are a re-creation or simulation of an Altbier, but are not 100% true to the style. In particular, the majority of the recipes contain American crystal malt, primarily for color. However there is NO crystal malt used in an authentic Altbier.
The author revealed in an email that the color in the darker Dusseldorf Altbiers comes not from crystal but from the addition of a malt-essence coloring agent called SINAMAR, an extract made by the Weyermann Malting Company of Bamberg. It was invented in 1903. SINAMAR is made from dehusked Weyermann Carafa malt. Because the grain base of this product is dehusked, there is no bitterness associated with this liquid, just dark concentrated color.
When the author wrote the manuscript for the Alt book in 1997/8, SINAMAR was not available in North America, so he never mentioned it. He fudged and resorted to crystal malt for color in the book. To avoid roasty notes, he kept the color value to no more than 60 Lovibond. The results are simulations of Altbier but if you are a purist you should know that the addition of crystal malt is inaccurate. Now, SINAMAR is available in the United States, where it is imported and distributed by Crosby & Baker. Unfortunately the book never mentions it so we have to do our own formulating. As a guideline, 4 oz. will add 16 SRM units to 5 gallons. SINAMAR is used to add color only, it does not effect flavor or add roasted notes. If you are not a stickler for authenticity, go ahead and use the crystal. I used Weyermann Caramunich and Carafa malts to darken my altbier instead of American crystal malt, because these are German products and I believe truer to style. Another alternative might be to use a tiny amount of debittered black malt for color, or just leave out the crystal altogether.
The one completely authentic recipe in the book is the "Enderlein's Alt". This is actually a clone of Schumacher Alt, still brewed in the oldest altbier brewpub in Dusseldorf (and thus probably the world). It uses only one type of grain, a two-row Pils malt kilned to a pale Munich color rating of 6.5. It uses only German Hallertau hops. Any darkness in the color comes strictly from the Malliard Reaction that occurs in the long boiling time (up to 120 minutes). The formulation was supplied by Mr. Herbert Enderlein, the brewmaster at Brauerei Ferdinand Schumacher so this is the real deal.
Altbier is nearly a lost art and is mostly off the radar of today's hop-heavy craft beer seekers. Pick this book up if you want to explore some beer making history and try your hand at brewing a very traditional style with noble hops and a classic Old World taste.