Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Altbier showdown!

If you're in the Chicago area and haven't tried Metropolitan's Iron Works Alt, what the hell's wrong with you??? To say it's been getting good reviews is an understatement. Check out what people have been saying about it here and here. And as you can see in the picture above, even folks who can't actually drink Iron Works still find a way to have fun with it (that would be my daughter, for the record).

Anyway, now that we have a six-pack of Iron Works in the house, and our own F5 Altbier on tap, I decided it was time to do a side-by-side tasting. Here are my notes:

Appearance: The Iron Works alt is a beautiful deep copper/amber with an ample off-white head. Ours is a hair darker--maybe more chestnut than copper--but very close.

Aroma: Some slight grassy, herbal hop notes give way to a hint of bready sweetness with the Iron Works. Mine has a slightly vinous ester note that I've noticed in quite a few of my beers lately (and with the temperature control and generous pitching rates I'm not really sure where this is coming from) along with a sweet malt note but only a slight hop aroma.

Taste: With the Metro Alt, up front you get a nice mixture of sweet Pils and Munich malts and a clean noble hop bitterness. In the middle you get some honey-like sweetness with just a touch of toasted complexity. The finish is nice and dry, but with just enough malt to keep the solid bitterness from being thrown out of balance. Really a remarkable Altbier, and definitely the best I've ever had outside of Düsseldorf.

Now as for my Alt, well... I'm not very happy with my Alt. Simply put, it's too big. The taste profile is quite similar to Iron Works, but both the malt sweetness and the hoppiness are amplified. I think you need the hops to be bigger to balance the beer, but it doesn't have that light, dry finish that the Metro Alt does, and that makes it heavier than an Alt should be. Plus there's still that damn vinous note.

So, the bottom line for now: Metro has managed to do what I've been hoping an American brewery would eventually do, and that's brew an Altbier that's not just a slightly hoppy brown ale brewed with German ingredients but is true to the Düsseldorf style (and yes, I'm familiar with authentic Düsseldorf Altbier, thank you very much) . Just how close it is will be determined in a couple months when I return from Düsseldorf with Atlbier in tow (more on that to come soon).

As for my beer, well I think I have some things to straighten out. The big thing for now is adjusting my mash schedule: I think my Munich-heavy grain bill gives me nice depth, but I need to compensate for that by going with a lower mash temperature so it finishes with a lower gravity. I know Doug and Tracy dealt with this issue by going with more Pilsner malt but I really like the depth Munich gives me (and I know Schumacher's Altbier is 100% Munich so it can be done).


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