What are Kölsch and Altbier? How can i learn more about them?

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Probably the best way to learn about Kölsch and Altbier is join Fred Waltman on the Sticke Warriors tour and taste all of the beers brewery-fresh straight from their namesakes. The only problem with this is that it won't leave time to brew a Kölsch or Altbier before the November deadline. So, you'll have to bone up on it now, and brew a batch before you fly to Germany. At least then you'll know what to look for when you're there, and can help out with the judging when you get back. Kölsch and Altbier occupy Category 8 in the BJCP style guidelines. The modern version these beers date back only about a hundred years, but their roots go back nearly a millennium. Kölsch, by law can only be brewed around the town of Cologne, Germany, or Köln in German. Düsseldorf style Altbier can only be brewed near Düsseldorf, just a few miles down the Rhine river. Both of these beer styles pre-date the advent of lager beer, though the brewers had already discovered that a period of cold-conditioning improved their ales.

In contrast to the two previous styles, Northern German Altbier is brewed in a variety of German cities. Furthermore, most of them are true lagers.
Kölsch is a light-bodied and very pale ale. It is brewed from Pilsner malt, and sometimes with up to 25% wheat as well. The hop aroma is light, and arises from German varieties, particularly Hallertauer. Bitterness is moderate. The aroma will often contain a bit of DMS, and hence is reminiscent of lagers. The appearance is sparkling clear. Step-infusion mashes are typically used, though sometimes a decoction mash is used.

Düsseldorf style Altbier is a rich malty amber beer. It is brewed from Pilsner malt with a hefty dose of Munich malt and crystal malts. It is an assertively bitter style with up to 55 IBUs. It often has a hop aroma, though not as strong as American Pale Ale. Altbiers are typically brewed using a decoction mash, or multi-step infusion mashes.

If you want to brew one of these beers, plan on fermenting it in the lower 60's and then giving it a one to two months of cold conditioning at 35° to 40°F. Like lagers, the best procedure for yeast vitality is to ramp the temperature down over several days. This will give the clean flavor that both of these beers are expected to have, and will improve clarity. 2565 Kölsch yeast and 1007 German Ale yeast from Wyeast work well at these temperatures. Because of this extended aging time, the upcoming Big Brew should give you enough time before the November competition.

Northern German Altbier is typically a less robust beer than Düsseldorf style. The bittering and hop aroma are a bit lower. Many of them could better be described as bitter brown lagers.

More information on the Sticke Warriors trip can be found at
http://www.stickewarriors.com/.

Vital Statistics for Kölsch and Altbier

Style Starting Gravity Final Gravity Bitterness, IBU Color, SRM Hop Aroma
Kölsch 1.040-1.048 1.008-1.013 16-30 3.5-5 Low
Düsseldorf Altbier 1.040-1.055 1.012-1.019 40-60 11-19 Low-Medium
No. German Altbier 1.040-1.055 1.012-1.019 25-40 11-19 None-Low