My German Themed Christmas

Well this summer my wife and I took our first trip to Germany, to Europe even, and I guess I was enthusiastic enough to send a hint for good Christmas gifts this year, because a vast majority of my presents has something to do with Germany! I’m not complaining, I was thrilled with them all, so I thought I would share them here.

The German Cookbook

The German Cookbook

 

 

 

 

 

First off my wife got me a German Cookbook and made a full German meal out of it including a currywurst appetizer, a main meal of Weinerschnitzel, potatoes, bacon and onions, red cabbage, and a berry compote for dessert, es war sehr lecker! Here is a picture of the book (I wish I had taken a picture of the meal too, but I thought of it too late and it was already half devoured, haha).

Deubert Family Crest

Deubert Family Crest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then I received another nice surprise from my wife. Recently I have begun trying to research my family heritage some more because we really don’t know anything before 1922 and I was also curious about my family crest, if one even existed (as you might have noticed me posting the forums about). So she managed to find a website that does genealogical research specific to family crests and they found a German family crest for the Deubert name (or for a similar derivative name, I haven’t gotten confirmation which yet) and she had it etched on a nice tall beer glass for me. I was very excited to find this out because several of my other German and Irish friends had their family crests made into rings or tatoo’s and so I was very curious to see it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally the last gift from my wife, which actually just arrived tonight (it took 4 weeks to get shipped here from Germany), was this really cool set of Düsseldorf Altbier glasses from Schlösser. They are the traditional size (8 ounce I believe) beer glasses used specifically for drinking Altbeir. All 4 of these glasses are different and have different sites or sehenswürdigkeiten (that’s a new word I just learned today in my GermanPod101 lesson, which is a whole nother blog post I am working on). One has the Gehry Neuer Zollhof buildings, another has the Rheinturm, another has the Düsseldorf Tonhalle which is a concert hall, and the fourth has the Düsseldorf Schlossturm or castle tower.

Schlössel Düsseldorf Altbier glasses

Schlössel Düsseldorf Altbier glasses

Altbier

Altbier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So then of course the first thing I had to do was fill it with Altbier!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then on to the gifts from my parents. I got a couple cool t-shirts, one of the Autobahn symbol, which was definitely one of the highlights of our cross-country Germany trip. I am only just slowing back down now, 6 months later after nearly 2 weeks of driving there on the Autobahn. The good news is it took the edge off my my wife riding with me on the highway here, after doing the speeds we were doing there she could care less about me going 80-85mph :) . The next shirt should be pretty self explanatory if you’ve ever heard the German expression “Ich liebe dich” which means “i love you” except in this case it says “Ich liebe bier!”, haha!

Autobahn symbol

Autobahn symbol


Ich liebe bier!

Ich liebe bier!

 

 

 

Deutschland license plate frame

Deutschland license plate frame


Also I got this Deutschland license plate frame which can be found here along with a bunch of other German things here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, last but not least I got a couple more German themed gifts from my in-laws, one very neat one and one very funny one. I got this beer stein which is really cool because I can actually say I’ve been to 3 out of the 5 places on it including Rothenburg, Berlin, and München (I’ll have to make a trip to Heidelberg and Neuschwanstein next time). Also one of the kind of annoying things when we were looking at the steins in the German gift shops was that a lot of them only said “Germany” on them which seems kind of unauthentic, so I am glad this one actually says Deutschland on it. Also I like that this one advertises on the tag that it was made entirely in Germany and had no parts made in China (Keine China-ware).

German Beer Stein

German Beer Stein


German Beer Stein

German Beer Stein

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then for the funniest gift of all I got this t-shirt…

So that’s it for me, it was quite a good Christmas for me this year. Did you get anything “German” for Christmas? If so tell us about it in the forum, we’d love to hear about it!

 

 

 

 

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Düsseldorf – die schönste Stadt am Rhein

Sun setting over the Rhein

As many of you know from my posts in our Forum, most of my family is from the Düsseldorf area, and having grown up spending almost every summer in Germany and Düsseldorf, I’ve developed a bit of a fond affection for the city – (and its beer; as you can tell by my forum username, “AltBier”!). From walking down the Rheinterasse in the summer, to visiting the “Grosste Kirmus am Rhein”, to strolling through the Alt Stadt or shopping in the Schadow Arkaden, it’s just a beautiful and fun city.

Perhaps what I like most about it is that when I get the opportunity to visit; I’m living and hanging out amongst Germans. I would say that is very different than visiting some of the other more tourist-oriented cities (including Munich and Berlin). Let’s face it – Düsseldorf isn’t a town that people from other countries go out of their way to visit – and that’s kind of a shame, because it truly is a gem of a town.

Walking along the Rhein

View of the Rheinufer

My family is from Lohausen, about 5 minutes away from downtown and the Altstadt,  and right around the corner from the airport. My Aunt’s house is within walking distance from the Rhein. One of the things I do often in the USA (especially in the warmer weather) is go jogging outdoors. If you are into jogging (or even walking or bike riding), then jogging along the Rhein is a very scenic route. From my Aunt’s house, it’s easy to go as little or as long as I’d like. I used to run a nice loop from her house, up to the Rhein, through the parking lots at the Messe, and back again. Make sure you go from the Rheindamm down to the actual river’s edge!

The Rheinufer, near the Altstadt,  is another beautiful area of the Rhein. While definitely more crowded than the more rural areas of the Rhein, its hustle and bustle has its own charm. I’d definitely recommend going for a nice Spaziergang anywhere along the Rhein!

Visiting the Kirmes

View of the Kirmes from Altstadt

A great thing about visiting Düsseldorf in the summer is the Kirmes – dubbed “Größte Kirmes am Rhein” (largest carnival along the Rhein); a fair that has its roots back to the 15th century. It’s truly a spectacular carnival; and what is really amazing about it is they literally build an entire amusement park for only a single week in July (normally the 3rd week).

It’s incredible to walk along the Rhein in the weeks leading up to the Kirmes and see only flat land one day and a towering Ferris wheel the next.  Each year, the Kirmes usually sees over 4 million visitors from all across Germany and Europe. The culmination of the Kirmes is an extravagant fireworks display (Feuerwerk).

Drinking Alt Bier in the Altstadt

You can barely walk down Bolkerstraße later in the evening!

Of course, my all-time favorite activity is simply going to the Altstadt and enjoying some Alt Bier from one of the many breweries in town. The Altstadt is affectionately known as the längste Theke der Welt (Longest Bar in the World) and has over 300 pubs and clubs. Being in the Altstadt on a Saturday night is really fun – people are hanging out outdoors, drinking and enjoying the evening, walking along the Rhein with an ice cream, and just enjoying the atmosphere. I recommend stopping at Uerige, Füchsen, and Schumacher Brauerei for some great Alt bier, and definitely walk along Bolkerstraße, where all the action is.

I’m also a fan of the thin-made German pizza, and Pizzeria Lupo in the Altstadt is my favorite. It’s on Bolkerstraße near Heinrich-Heine Allee. I’ve always been a fan of the Tunfischpizza (Tuna Pizza -  or Pizza Tonno in Italien!).

Other Things to Do

The Gehry Buildings

There are lots of other things to do as well. I put together a Google Map list of things to do in Düsseldorf. While not everything on the list is super exciting, it shows some of the things that occupied my time when I used to visit.

One thing not on my original list that was an ad-hoc decision this past summer was taking a boat trip on the Weisse Flotte. They have a bunch of charters, but the boat ride we did was a 1-hour long putter up and down the Rhein. You get some great views of the Altstadt from the water, including some of the architecture to the south like the Gehry Buildings, as well as great views of the Rheinturm and the various bridges, including the Theodor-Heuss Brücke. Also, you get unlimited beer during the trip. Yup, that was all we had to know; we were on that boat! And to top it off, the price was very reasonable – if I recall correctly I think it was around 20 Euros per person.

My friend during the Weisse Flotte trip.... that's a lotta beer!

Some other things you can do include going to the top of the Rheinturm. I have not yet done this (surprisingly.. having been to Düsseldorf probably 15 or more times!), but I have heard great things and would certainly recommend it if you have the time!

If you are into shopping, Düsseldorf is a shopping mecca- from Koenigsallee (affectionately called the Ko) with all the famous makers (Gucci, Burberry, etc.) to the Schadow Arkaden – an indoor mall walking distance from the Altstadt – there is a lot to spend your hard-earned Euros on.

There are also several museums, although I haven’t visited any except for the Kunstsammlung NRW, and to be honest I don’t really recall if I enjoyed it there or not!

Have you been to Dusseldorf? What are your favorite parts to visit and see? Visit our Forum to talk with other ImGerman.com members about it!

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Germany’s Best Wine: Riesling from the Mosel Valley

View of the Mosel Valley from Schloss Cochem

OK, so the title may be a bit subjective… but in my opinion Riesling is the best wine from Germany and my favorite wine type in general. The crisp sweetness and smooth aftertaste is just fantastic.

My first experience with Riesling wine came in the earlier part of this decade when my father brought some Riesling from the Mosel Valley home with him to the United States. I had been to Germany many times before, but never to the Mosel Valley. We opened up a bottle of the wine and shared it, and it was delicious! I remember the wine being sweet; but that’s fine by me, as I prefer sweeter wines as compared to dry ones (like a Chardonnay).

I am certainly no wine connoisseur, but of all the varieties of white wines I have tried, Riesling is certainly my favorite. While the Mosel is the birthplace of Riesling, it is by no means the only area in which it is produced.

A brief description of Reisling from Wikipedia:

Riesling is a white grape variety which originated in the Rhine region of Germany. Riesling is an aromatic grape variety displaying flowery, almost perfumed, aromas as well as high acidity. It is used to make dry, semi-sweet, sweet and sparkling white wines. Riesling wines are usually varietally pure and are seldom oaked. As of 2004, Riesling was estimated to be the world’s 20th most grown variety at 48,700 hectares (120,000 acres) (with an increasing trend), but in terms of importance for quality wines, it is usually included in the “top three” white wine varieties together with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Riesling is a variety which is highly “terroir-expressive”, meaning that the character of Riesling wines is clearly influenced by the wine’s place of origin.

In 2006, Riesling was the most grown variety in Germany with 20.8% and 21,197 hectares (52,380 acres), and in the French region of Alsace with 21.9% and 3,350 hectares (8,300 acres). There are also significant plantings of Riesling in Austria, Luxembourg, northern Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Finger Lakes, USA, Canada, South Africa, China and Ukraine. In the countries where it is cultivated, Riesling is most commonly grown in colder regions and locations.

Riesling grapes in Klotten

The good thing is that in the past few years, Riesling has grown in prominence and is now available in most (if not all) areas of the United States, and most restaurants stateside now feature at least a few Rieslings on their menu to accompany your meals.

Visiting the Mosel

The Mosel is a tributary of the Rhine, starting in France, traveling through Luxembourg, and then flowing into Germany and joining the Rhine in Koblenz. The Mosel is quite long; just under 550km in length. Much of it has been made navigable to ships, and cargo ships are a frequent site traveling up and down the river. In Germany, the steep banks of the Mosel Valley provide the perfect landscape for growing Riesling grapes.

I first visited the Mosel in 2004, when I was in the US Air Force National Guard. My two-week annual training was at Rammstein Air Base in Germany, and on the weekend I took the opportunity to visit my family in Dusseldorf and also spend a day in the Mosel wine valley.

It is truly a beautiful place, very peaceful and serene. The hills rising on both sides of the Mosel, the slowly meandering river, and the sun reflecting off tens of thousands of eager grapes as far as the eye can see just make you want to sit back and relax with a nice glass of wine.

The Mosel valley offers more than just wine. There are also several castles along the Mosel. In 2004, I visited the Castle of Cochem (Schloss Cochem). I can’t recall many details of the castle other than the breathtaking views of the valley from the castle, which sites 100m above the water in a perfectly perched observation setting. On the way back from the castle, I remember stopping in Cochem to visit a few of the wine cellars and taste various Reislings, as well as buying a few bottles to bring home.

Castle Cochem Photo

Castle Cochem (Schloss Cochem)

In 2010 (this past summer), I visited the Mosel again on a day trip while traveling from Dusseldorf to Rothenburg. We visited Burg Eltz, which was defniitely a more impressive castle than Castle Cochum, but didn’t have the beautiful view of the Mosel that Cochum’s castle afforded.

If you decide to visit the Mosel, I would highly recommend making Cochem the highlight of your visit, particularly if your visit is short in duration. There are certainly many other areas of the Mosel to visit; but from everything I have read and the people I have spoke with, Cochem seems to be a center of activity and is easy to get to for a very nice day trip.

The Riesling Profile

Again, I am not a great wine connoisseur, so I’ll let Wikipedia do the explaining for me:

Today, Riesling is Germany’s leading grape variety, known for its characteristic “transparency” in flavour and presentation of terroir, and its balance between fruit and mineral flavours. In Germany, Riesling normally ripens between late September and late November, and late harvest Riesling can be picked as late as January.

Three common characteristics of German Riesling are that they are rarely blended with other varietals, hardly ever exposed to commercial yeast and usually never exposed to oak flavour (despite some vintners fermenting in “neutral” oak barrels). To this last item there is an exception with some vinters in the wine regions of Palatinate (Pfalz) and Baden experimenting with new oak aging. The warmer temperatures in those regions produce heavier wines with a higher alcohol content that can better contend with the new oak. While clearer in individual flavours when it is young, a German Riesling will harmonize more as it ages, particularly around ten years of age.

In Germany, sugar levels at time of harvest are an important consideration in the wine’s production with prädikat levels measuring the sweetness of the wine. Equally important to winegrowers is the balance of acidity between the green tasting malic acid and the more citrus tasting tartaric acid. In cool years, some growers will wait until November to harvest in hopes of having a higher level of ripeness and subsequent tartaric acid.

Before technology in wineries could stabilize temperatures, the low temperatures in winter of the northern German regions would halt fermentation and leave the resulting wines with natural sugars and a low alcohol content. According to local tradition, in the Mosel region the wine would then be bottled in tall, tapered, and green hock bottles. Similar bottles, although brown, are used for Riesling produced in the Rhine region.

Riesling is also the preferred grape in production of Deutscher Sekt, German sparkling wine.

Riesling wines from Germany cover a vast array of tastes from sweet to off-dry halbtrocken to dry trocken. Late harvest Rieslings can ripen to become very sweet dessert wines of the beerenauslese (BA) and trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) class.

I find that even the drier Rieslings are still comparatively sweet compared to other varietals of white wine (like a Sauvignon Blanc). Mosel wine producers also produce some really delicious sweet desert wines, and there are also some great shops in the villages on the Mosel that sell all kinds of sweet alcohol (like their famous Pfirsichliqeuer).

What to Eat with Riesling

Typical advice is to pair white wines with fish and chicken. Riesling’s sweetness and balance makes it a good pair with these dishes, as well as pork. The sweetness of Riesling also lends itself well to saltier meals.

I’d probably still stick with a red wine though for the steaks and meats!

Prominant Riesling Brands

One of the most prominent German Rieslings in the United States is created by Schmitt Soehne. They produced an interesting PDF discussing the Reisling market in the USA. They are known primarily for their two brands, Schmitt Soehne and Relax. I’ve seen these in almost every major package store in my area, and I’d imagine they are widely available.

Relax Reisling

Schmitt Soehne Reisling

As noted in the beginning of this posts, I’m specifically talking about German Riesling. However, I have had Riesling from the US as well, and to be honest it’s quite good. Like I said earlier, I’m definitely not a wine connoisseur- so while I can tell a Reisling apart from a Chardonnay, I honestly would probably have a hard time telling one Reisling from another.

What Are Your Favorite Wines?

So, that about wraps it up. If you ever have the chance to visit the Mosel, I would highly recommend it – it is a very beautiful area of Germany and the towns there are really centered on the production of Riesling wine. If your idea of a good time is enjoying a glass of wine surrounded by beautiful scenery, it’s pretty difficult to top this area.

What are your thoughts on Riesling and other wines? Have you traveled to the Mosel or other wine regions and can compare them?

Visit our Forum Post to discuss Riesling, and other wines, with Im German.com members!

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Blending German and American Christmas Traditions

Christmas traditions are very important to most Germans. This picture is from Kathe Wohlfahrt in Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

Traditions are an interesting thing, especially in mixed-culture families. Many people hold great value onto the traditions they had as a child, so when each parent has a unique experience, the blending of that can create a new tradition that is a wonderful mesh of all the best aspects of both worlds. Germans and Americans have a few similarities but also many differences when it comes to their Christmas traditions. When I was growing up in Connecticut, I remember many things that our German American family did that were unique from the other kids I knew from school, and those differences were something that helped define me as a person and build a sense of identity as I grew older.

Getting ready for our German American Christmas

The first thing I remember is getting the Advent bowl put together. My dad would go outside and cut some pine to fill the bowl, and melt the candles upside down to get the wax in the candle holders so they would stay put. This normally happened right after Thanksgiving.  As Christmas drew closer, each week we would light another candle in the bowl.

I also remember putting my shoes outside of my bedroom door for St. Nikolaus on December 6th, and waking up the next morning to find them filled with candy.

Another thing we did each year was have an Adventskalendar. One of things I loved about the Advents Calender was that it had doors with chocolate behind them. So every day, you had one piece of chocolate as you got closer to Christmas (and invariably you could never wait to get to the last day because the piece of chocolate was huge!). We would always buy our Adventskalender at the German school that I attended on Saturdays.

Another unique tradition we carried on was “tagging” our tree (instead of cut it down). I wouldn’t even see our Christmas tree until Christmas Eve (Heilige Abend). I remember going to the tree farm and picking out just the perfect tree, and putting some ribbon on it; to make sure that the Christkind knew which tree was ours (followed by hot chocolate at Dunkin’ Donuts!). My father would always have a Schnapps with the owner of the Christmas tree farm, who was also a German.

Christmas Star

The one we had in our home was made out of paper and you actually hung a light bulb into it

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

The best part of Christmas, though, was seeing the tree for the first time on Christmas eve. Our house had a somewhat open floor plan, so starting 2 days or so before Christmas Eve I would wake up and there would be sheets pinned up against the wall so we couldn’t see what was going on. My father always told me the Engeln (angels) were getting the tree ready for Christmas. There was always Christmas music playing (although admittedly it was typical American Christmas music).

On Christmas Eve, we would all dress up in nice clothes. The entire family would go to one of the bedrooms and we would wait for the Engeln to finish their work preparing the tree. We would eat shrimp cocktail and played some board games.  The excitement my sister and I had was almost palpable. At some point, we would hear a bell ring – this indicated we could go see the tree for the first time. I’ll always remember walking down that hallway from the bedroom to the living room and turning the corner to see a tree (lit only with white lights) with loads of presents under it from the Christkind. It was also adorned with very old Christmas ornaments that had been  passed down from generation to generation, including beautiful hand-carved wooden ornaments.

We also always had real candles on the tree (along with a fire extinguisher next to it , those candles were only lit when we were in the room!), which is definitely only possible for a fresh tree and for safety reasons I would have a hard time recommending anyone use real candles on their own trees.

Before we were allowed to open any presents, my sister and I had to sing a song. We had an electronic keyboard and normally did “Stille Nacht” (Silent Night) while my father videotaped and took photos. After that, we were able to open up a few presents. My mother would always make a beautiful gingerbread house as well that we would nibble the candy from.

We never opened up all the presents right away, though. We would have dinner in between. I remember it varying but normally we would have either a nice fondue (I loved cooking meat in the fondue with the dipping sauces) or a nice steak (like a filet). It was quite a treat!

We always had one of these candle-heat powered carousels on our mantle

After dinner, we would go back and open more presents and exchange all of our cards and gifts with each other. We had stockings hanging on the mantle, but they were still empty.
After we went to bed, the next morning we would get up excited – because hey, we are in America and not only does the Christkind visit our house; but so does Santa! So we did the typical American Christmas the next morning – waking up our parents by jumping on their bed at 5:30 in the morning and then running in to find even more presents as well as our stockings stuffed to the brim. The rest of the day was spent playing with everything we received and continuing to eat more Gingerbread house parts.

Another great thing about our tree arriving in our home so late, was that it stayed later than everyone else I knew. Most of my friends had their trees already out of the house by New Year’s. Our tree would stay up until well into January. We would hang and light sparklers from the tree on New Years Eve. (Again, not so sure about how great that idea was in retrospect from a flammability perspective!)

How have you merged your Christmas traditions?

All in all, these blending of traditions, to me, created a unique experience that I felt very strongly about. I loved that my Christmas was different from my friends in America, but also that I was able to experience some of the same things (like Santa on Christmas morning) that my friends experienced.

What kind of traditions do you have in your house? How do you blend German and American traditions together for a unique Christmas experience? Visit our forums and discuss it with other I’m German members!

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The Wonders of a Wiener Schnitzel

What could be  better or more delicious than a nice Wienerschnitzel? While technically an Austrian dish, the Schnitzel is known and loved throughout Germany. I grew up with my mother making this at least weekly, with a nice squeeze of lemon on top. It’s a delicious recipe that every German knows and loves. You can make it with veal (preferred), but I have also made pretty decent schnitzel with pork and even (for a slightly healthier variety!) chicken breast.

Wikipedia has quite a long discussion on Wiener Schnitzel, (“Viennese Cutlet”), describing the history of the Schnitzel:

Schnitzel is a traditional Austrian dish consisting of an escalope coated in breadcrumbs and fried. It is a popular part of Viennese and Austrian cuisine. In Austria the dish, called Wiener Schnitzel (Viennese Schnitzel), is traditionally served with a lemon slice and either potato salad or potatoes with parsley and butter. Although the traditional Wiener Schnitzel is made of veal, it is now often made of pork. When made of pork, it is often called Schnitzel Wiener Art (Germany) or Wiener Schnitzel vom Schwein (Austria) to differentiate it from the original. In Austria, the term Wiener Schnitzel is protected by law, and any schnitzel called by that name has to be made from veal. There are also regional versions of Schnitzel, such as “Salzburger Schnitzel”, which is stuffed with mushrooms, bacon, onions, and other various herbs.

There is a debate as to where schnitzel originated. Some claim Milan, northern Italy, as cotoletta alla milanese, though others say it appeared in Vienna during the 15th or 16th century. One hypothesis is that it could have been brought to Austria during the Battle of Vienna in 1683 by Polish and German troops. According to another hypothesis, it was introduced in 1857 by Field Marshal Radetzky, who spent much of his life in Milan. The term Wiener Schnitzel itself dates to at least 1862. Variants of this dish are common around the world. Because of the major role Wiener Schnitzel has in Vienna, the city is also nicknamed “The Big Schnitzel”.

Here’s a quick recipe to make some of your Schnitzel at home, courtesy of AllRecipes:

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds veal
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 cups bread crumbs
  • 1/8 cup oil for frying

Directions

  1. Cut the veal into steaks, about as thick as your finger. Dredge in flour. In a shallow dish, beat the eggs with 1 tablespoon oil, salt and pepper. Coat the veal with egg mixture, then with bread crumbs.
  2. Heat 1/4 cup oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Fry veal until golden brown, about 5 minutes on each side.
Of course, there are variations on the Schnitzel, including:
That’s it! It doesn’t get much easier than this. Making with chicken or pork is a simple substitution of the meat.
To finish off your real German meal, just add Kartoffelsalat (potato salad), Salat (side salad), or my personal favorite; some Pommes mit Mayo (French Fries with mayonnaise on the side) along with it. One of those tiny plastic forks would complete the German flashback.  Yum!

What’s your favorite Schnitzel recipe and side dish? Visit our Forum post to discuss with other ImGerman members!
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Brewing Your Own Dusseldorf Alt Bier

One of the things that drives me nuts living in the states is that it is almost impossible to find that delicious Alt bier that exists in Dusseldorf, Germany; where my family resides. Whenever I get to visit Germany, one of my favorite things to indulge in is a trip to the Altstadt and enjoy a few nice ,2 cl glasses of Alt Bier out by the Rhein. I usually make a point to bring home a few bottles with me (this year; I brought back three liters of Schumacher Alt), but that normally gets drank fairly quickly upon return stateside.

A quick description of Alt Bier:

German Altbier or Alt is a top fermenting beer that originated in the German Westphalia region and later grew in popularity around the Rhineland. This week we take a look at brewing Altbier at home. The term “Alt” or “old beer” refers to the old methods of using a top fermenting ale yeast at ale temperatures but then cold aging the beer to form a slightly bitter, malty, well attenuated German ale. The term Altbier first appeared in the 1800′s to differentiate this traditional ale from newer pale lagers getting popular in Germany.

The BJCP recognizes two distinct style of Altbier, the Dusseldorf Alt is primarily produced near the town of Dusseldorf, and is slightly more bitter than the more widely brewed Northern German Altbier. The Northern version generally has a slight caramel flavor and is sweeter and less bitter than the Dusseldorf. Some Altbiers are also produced in small quantities in the Netherlands near the German border as well as Austria, Switzerland and the US microbreweries.

So, since it is very difficult to find here (I think I have only seen Frankenheim Alt once or twice in Connecticut), I decided to try and brew some of my own with a couple friends. It wasn’t quite as good as what I had out in Germany, but it was a fair substitute, and hopefully as I improve my home brewing abilities I can improve and make it more like the Alt Bier I had in Dusseldorf.

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A picture of my first glass of home brewed Alt Bier

Getting the ingredients
If you’ve never brewed beer before; it’s really not that difficult and actually quite enjoyable. I went to a local brew supply store (Blackstone Valley Brewing) with two of my friends in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. The place was very small but had everything in stock.

I went in asking about Alt Bier. I didn’t expect anyone would be familiar with it since it is such a localized brew (as far as I know; Dusseldorf is primarily where this beer hails from. I’ve traveled quite a bit over Germany and even in-country it can be difficult to find Alt).

To my surprise the guy who was working there pulled a bottle out of his fridge, popped the top, and gave me a cup with some Alt bier he had just brewed. It was very good; again not quite like what I had in Germany, but still delicious!

For about $120 I purchased everything I needed to brew up the beer, except for the bottles themselves. The starter kit I purchased was identical to this home beer brewing kit on Amazon. All in all I like the kit, I wasn’t sure at first if I should be using plastic pails or glass carboys but the consensus seems to be that for beer, it really doesn’t matter. If you want to make wine at some point, you might be better off getting the glass carboys. I paid about $90 for it locally from the brew shop.

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The starter kit comes with primary and secondary fermentation bottles, a hydrometer, an auto-siphon, a bottling wand, a capper, a set of bottle caps, and a short starter book on brewing beer

I also purchased the ingredients for the beer, which I found on a home brewing site. The ingredients in this particular Alt include:

  • 4 oz. Munich Malt
  • 4 oz. Vienna Malt
  • 4 oz. Wheat Malt
  • 4 oz. Crystal Malt
  • Muslin Bag
  • 6 lb. light malt extract
  • 2 oz. Bitter Hops (Spalt)
  • 1 oz. Aroma Hops (Saaz)
  • 1 tsp. Irish Moss
  • 1 packet Ale Yeast
  • 3/4 cup Priming Sugar

I used an Extract recipe for the brew, as opposed to All Grain. I’m still very new at this and don’t fully understand the difference but suffice it to say that Extract is easier and what you want to do for your first time brewing. All the ingredients for the beer itself were around $30 or so. Once I had made my purchase, I loaded up my car and headed home.

Brewing it up
Not being the patient type, I immediately got to work brewing the beer when I walked in the door of my house. I put my 5 gallon lobster pot on the stove and filled it with 2 gallons of cold water from my fridge. Some of the more picky brewers will only use distilled water, but I simply used the filtered water from my tap (which itself comes from a well) and it came out fine in my opinion. The beer kit came with a Muslin bag (almost like a stocking or a nylon) which I filled with the cracked grains that were a part of the ingredient kit I purchased. I placed the grains in the bag and the bag in the water and turned the heat up to high.

I placed a thermometer inside the lobster pot so I could track the temperature of the water (which, when done, is called the “Wort”). The idea is that you want to heat the water to about 170 – 175 but not higher. Again, I’m not a scientist (one of my friends who went to the brew store with me was; and he gave me a very in-depth discussion of why not too heat it too high… something about killing enzymes is what I recall from that conversation). Once the water got to 175 I let it go for about an additional half hour at that temperature, before I removed and discarded the muslin bag with the grains.

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This is what the Muslin bag looks like filled with grains

After that, it’s time to turn up the heat some more and get the mixture boiling. Once the liquid reaches boiling, I added in the malt extract. I had a 50/50 mixture of powder extract and liquid extract. One of the useful tips on the Liquid extract is to place the container in warm water ahead of time to “soften up” the extract so it pours out easier. It’s very thick, almost like molasses or honey. The extract is the “food” that the yeast will eat during the fermentation process which gives the beer its alcohol content.

The next steps involve adding the hops at predetermined intervals. The entire boiling period is usually about an hour. The bittering hops (in the Alt Bier case, the Spalt hops) are used at the start of the boil. Half of the Aroma or Flavoring hops (Saaz) are put in at the 20 minute mark; and the remainder is used at the 45 minute mark along with a tiny package of “Irish Moss”, (which I’m not sure what that really even does!).

Once the wort has been boiling for about an hour, the next thing to do is cool it down as quickly as possible. They sell cooling kits at the brew supply store (basically a pipe loop with a hose connection for your faucet) but I was going cheap. Again, I’m not a pro so I don’t know if I did this right, but I figured the quickest way to cool the beer down would be to just dump my (hot) Wort directly into my Fermenting bucket that was filled with 3 gallons of cold water. I did that and the temperature immediately dropped down to about 120 – 125 degrees.

Not bad, but the idea is to get the temp down to around 75 – 80 (you can’t add in the yeast any earlier; or it could die and your beer would not ferment). So I took my 5 gallon fermenting bucket and dropped in the sink and put ice all around it. It still took almost 3 hours for the temperature to drop down to 77 degrees. I actually watched two movies (and had a few more beers!) while waiting. I was nervous that this was too long and was having second thoughts about having dumped the Wort directly into the fermenting bucket water before cooling it down, but like I said above at the end of the day it all came out pretty good, so I guess I didn’t screw it up too bad.

Once the 5 gallons of brew is down to room temp, the only next things to do are add the yeast, seal it up, and wait. One thing I didn’t do was take a hydrometer reading before bottling the beer. The hydrometer measures the specific gravity of the beer. Water has a specific gravity of 1.0. Adding the grains, malt, hops, etc. to the beer increases the specific gravity. What happens is that during the fermenting process the yeast eats up the malt and the specific gravity will drop. The difference between the starting and ending specific gravity can be used to calculate the alcohol percentage of your brew.

In any event, I neglected to do that step so I simply put the yeast in, put the lid on it (along with the airlock my starter kit came with), and stuck the whole thing in the basement.

Waiting and Bottling

Next, I had to wait for the beer to ferment in the basement. In the morning on the way out the door I would look at the airlock to see bubbles coming through (which means successful fermentation is taking place). While fermentation was ongoing, I visited another brew supply store called Strange Brew in Marlboro, Massachusetts. This was actually a much larger place with much more selection than the one I had visited earlier in Woonsocket.

I went in and talked to the guy about the brew and how things were going, adn then I proceeded to buy my bottles. To my surprise the bottles were one of the most expensive parts of the entire process – I think enough bottles for 5 gallons of beer ran close to the $70 or $80 mark. Tip: if you plan on brewing beer, start saving the bottles you are using as you can recap them!

I bought a dozen 1-liter bottles and another 18 or so 500ml bottles. I also bought the Grolsch-style (flip-cap) bottles. I did this because A) I figured it would be easier to fill less bottles and B) flip cap means I don’t have to struggle with the capper. In the end I was very happy with that decision.

About a week and half after brewing, I went downstairs and brought up my fermenting bucket of beer and placed it on the counter top. It was time to fill up the bottles! The first thing I had to do was boil up about 16oz of water with priming sugar. I actually bought priming sugar from the brew supply store; I’m not sure if you could just use table sugar or some other substitute. The priming sugar is mixed into the brew in your bottling bucket (NOT the fermenting bucket). Once you bottle the beer, this is actually the “Secondary Fermentation” process that carbonates the beer and lets it have a nice head. I used the siphon in the kit I bought to drain the beer from the fermenting bucket to the bottling bucket,, and slowly mixed in my priming sugar / water combination at the same time. The bottling bucket has a spigot on the bottom that makes it easier to fill up your bottles, and leaves all the fermentation residue in the fermenting bucket.

Before bottling, I did a really quick rinse with a sanitizing agent of the bottles (also bought at the brew store). I was told one of the worst things you can do is not properly sanitize your equipment – that goes for earlier as well. Everything that touches the beer has to be sanitized or else you risk destroying your batch of brew.

After getting all the beer out of the fermenting bucket and into the bottling bucket, it was time to actually bottle. The kit I bought came with a nice bottling hose which has a spring loaded head on it that lets you fill bottles simply by pushing the wand to the bottom of the bottle. when you are done filling the bottle, the flow stops, which helps prevent any messes in your kitchen or wherever you bottle.

Once all the beer was bottled, I had a nice case of beer that looked like this:

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So tempted to drink it now... but I have to wait more!!

The cases went back into the basement for two more weeks to finish up the secondary fermentation and get their carbonation.

Time to Drink!

I was supposed to wait 2 weeks, but I only gave it about a week and a half again before I couldn’t wait any longer. I threw a beer in the fridge for about an hour to chill it just enough (no, beer is not supposed to be ice cold, just cool!) and then drank my first home brewed Alt bier. It was very good! Again, I can’t compare it to what I had in Dusseldorf, but I was very happy with a first time effort.

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This actually wasn't the Alt Bier that Salem Beer Works had, but I did take a picture of this cool sign!

There are other beers in the United States that come from Alt Bier roots (Long Trail Ale is a supposed Alt Bier), but they have never tasted the same to me. I went to Salem, Massachusetts with some friends around Halloween time and the Salem Beer Works had their own Alt Bier brewed; but it still wasn’t as good as what I had in Germany.

All in all, brewing my own was a fun experience and will certainly help fill the void before I can head back to Bolkerstrasse in the Alt Stadt and enjoy another Uerige, Frankenheim, Schlosser, or Schumacher Alt!

Have you had success brewing an Alt Bier, or any other kind of German Beer? Visit our forum post with this topic where you can discuss it with other ImGerman members!

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