Continuing to leverage my time at home during the coronavirus pandemic, I am studying for the second level of the Cicerone Certification Program for beer professionals. To stay honest in my studies, I am publishing reviews of DMV beers brewed in the classic styles and comparing them to the official style guidelines. While I recently took my online exam, I am continuing to do so to a) keep myself informed and b) I am really enjoying writing for you all.
You don’t find a ton of Altbiers around DC (or even the US) so finding an example of the Dusseldorf-originating hybrid beer is exciting. Altbier literally means “Old Beer,” and is a hybrid because it is lagered like an, uh, lager, but fermented the old way, using top-fermenting ale yeast. Also, this gave me an excuse to drink more Wheatland Spring. To the guidelines:
Altbier Guidelines from the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP):
A well-balanced, well-attenuated, bitter yet malty, clean, and smooth, amber- to copper-colored German beer.
Appearance is light amber to deep copper color, stopping short of brown.
Aroma is clean yet robust and complex aroma of grainy-rich malt and spicy hops with restrained fruity esters.
Flavor is assertive hop bitterness well balanced by crisp malt character… medium-high to high attenuation, but considerable rich, complex, and somewhat grainy malt flavors can remain. A long-lasting, bittersweet or nutty finish reflects both the hop bitterness and malt complexity.
Mouthfeel is medium-bodied. Smooth. Medium to medium-high carbonation.
Vital Statistics: IBUs 25-50, SRM 11-17, ABV 4.3-5.5%
Wheatland Spring’s Bauernhof Altbier pours a copper brown with reddish tints around the edges, on the higher end of the SRM scale for an Alt. While the darkness can give an appearance of haze, the beer is quite clear even when held up in soft porch lamp light. Toast dominates the nose, with hints of nuttiness, even reminiscent of lighter coffee roasts. The taste is toast, grandma’s toffees, pine cones, and a twist of orange peel “essence” that my bartender swears is essential to a cocktail’s balance. There is almost a rauchbier-like meatiness to this beer that is really intriguing. Darker flavors than an amber, but lighter than even a light brown ale, Bauernhof is deceptively easy drinking, with moderate carbonation and solid but unobtrusive bitterness.
Bauernhof is less bitter than Zum Uerige’s Altbier, long considered to be the standard bearer of the style. It has been a year or so since I have had Uerige, but honestly, I like Wheatland’s take better. Less bracing bitterness makes for an easier drinker, and the resulting malt focus shines a light on the quality grain the farm utilizes. In yet another shocking surprise, Wheatland has produced yet another incredibly balanced banger. Much appreciation to my boss who brought my no-car-city-living ass a 4-pack. If anyone wants to drive out and bring me however much Corn Crib will fit in their car, HIT ME UP.
Bauernhof Altbier, in many ways, is a perfect fall beer. Toasty, amber and ester-y ale flavors mingle with crisp lager drinkability, a true representation of the seasonal bridge weather. There is a bit of sweet weight in the body here, but this is no flabby fireside sipper. This beer is crinkly red leaves falling to the ground while you excitedly unpack your winter wardrobe; this is definitely the year you become a Cardigan Guy. It’s hard not to feel bittersweet drinking this (and I’m not talking about residual sugars, amirite!): summer is ending, but there is a sense of renewal to go along with Bauernhof’s crisp, dry finish. You should fucking vote, but don’t make that all that you do.
Pairs well with bratwurst, snappy weather, salty popcorn, reheating Bub and Pops in your oven, idealizing leaving the city life and buying a house in the country.
Next week – Vasen Hefeweizen!