It’s nice to think that we’re currently in a bit of a beer boom - at the epicentre of a swirling explosion of new styles and ingenious approaches to brewing. The truth, however, is that most of what we see today has actually been done before.
Today’s beer, Valkyrie, is a nice case in point. This is a German style amber made by the American outfit Enegren, who specialise in Germanic lager-like brews.
It’s a nice twist on the current theme for shifts to lighter styles, as its roots are found in the indigenous German altbier - which itself was very much a deliberate movement to a lighter style of beer making back in the 19th century.
In mediaeval times, brewing in Rhineland was very much about heavy ales, but when rail routes from the south began to appear in the 1800s, the influx of ‘new’ Bavarian and Bohemian lagers began to put the existence of the simple ale under threat.
Altbier was the response, and the term was supposedly coined by the brewer Matthias Schumacher in 1838. “Alt” actually translates to old, so in a clever piece of spin marketing - this style gives a big nod to the old top fermented ales whilst moving stylistically closer to lager.
This move is with thanks to a variety of techniques; an unorthodox yeast which is top fermented but fermented cool, greater hop additions and ageing in wooden casks. The result - a lagered, hoppy ale hybrid that will hopefully appeal to lager and ale lovers alike - and which sounds similar to a lot of brews currently surging in popularity.
Let’s give it a taste!
Pours deep mahogany with a dense beige head. The nose is big, malty and bready but the ale esters are absent so there’s none of the lift, and more of those heavier iron-like qualities that make this beer feel like it was fashioned on an anvil. The palate is a real contradiction too - malt driven and sweet but framed with a lager lightness and balanced with hop bitterness. It’s certainly crisp and clean and moreish…
This is a clever beer! The cooler fermentation results in less esters and fusel-like alcohols and the lager like ageing allows the yeast to reabsorb the aldehydes (malts and chocolate notes) - so you get big malt without the ale hit you’d expect.
It’s subjective as to how one might read this beer - It’s either a big lager or a lighter ale and the fact that it has more alcohol than a textbook altbier complicates things further.
Ultimately it’s an old style beer, born from a shift to a lighter style but then re-framed in the current age of higher ABVs. Jeez… makes me wonder when beer became so complicated - but then, as mentioned before, really it always has been…