People tell me that I know a lot about beer. I tell them that I don’t, that I’m just writing about my drinking habit. Self-deprecating humor, sure, but there is a lot I still don’t know about beer.
People who make beer obviously know a heck of a lot more than I do. They get to actually put their hands on the raw materials and watch them transform. I’m not one of those guys. My skill set is to sit from upon mount high and dream up pithy prose while, usually, stretching far to connect my rambles with the actual item to be reviewed.
Why don’t I home brew? I’m thinking about it. Unfortunately, I get the impression that I’d want to sit there and watch the stuff bubble and ferment every second of the process. Besides, it’s much easier to kick back and just drink the stuff while catching up on Boardwalk Empire.
So, who is one of those guys? Mike Helf, lead brewer at McGuire’s Irish Pub is. He’ll stop by and literally dissect each sample, pint and snifter of suds we hand him. Mike can pick out which hops were used. Lord help you if you’re the bartender and your beer knowledge isn’t that strong, because you’re about to be tortured with questions.
And he’s just one of the reminders that there’s always more I can learn about beer. He came by the other day and was inquiring about the Abita Bourbon Street Altbier. I just happened to be walking past so I saved the staff from the deer-in-headlights moment of uncertainty. After letting him know the beer’s AbV – 8.5% – he replied, “Oh, it’s a Sticke Alt.”
That’s right, it is. I had forgotten about Sticke Altbier. And it’s not even much to remember. All it means is that it’s a stronger version of the Düsseldorf classic. Now my brain’s thinking about Altbier, so it’s time to remind myself. See? Still learning.
The Latin “Altus” – meaning high, noble & deep-rooted – morphed into the German “Alt” meaning old. Altbier is known as such due to its longer conditioning period and the rise of the yeast during fermentation. Extra conditioning smoothes the beer’s flavors and textures. Brewing it to Sticke strength means using extra malt for its starch, which also means a little more hops are needed for balance.
Abita went one step farther and aged their special-release Alt in Bourbon casks for 8 weeks. The result is a nice mahogany color with a fluffy head that settles to a milky cap with sticky, spotty lacing. Big-yet-mellow scents of raisin, carob, caramel and whiskey abound while a smooth body delivers even smoother notes of toffee, oak, a little butterscotch and rum cake.
Beer education is a reward unto itself, particularly when the lesson is this tasty. Cheers to Mike and cheers to Abita!