I picked up a case of Southampton's altbier at the local distributor yesterday. Last year, my friend and fellow homebrewer Lou treated me to a class at Tria Fermentation School on farmhouse ales, taught by Phil Markowski, head brewer at Southampton Publick House. It was a great class, especially since Phil literally wrote the book on farmhouse ales. (Thanks Lou!) Southampton beers are often on tap at beer bars in Philadelphia -- usually the delicious Double White. Having enjoyed Phil's takes on saison, bier de garde and Belgian wit, I was eager to try his altbier.
Altbier is a German ale, traditionally brewed with dark malts and noble hops, associated with the city of Düsseldorf. Its name means "old (style) beer," as it is one of the most ancient styles in Germany, brewed largely unchanged for hundreds (if not thousands) of years in the lower Rhine region. In the days before refrigeration, the mild climate there did not allow for the formation of enough ice to produce lagers. Now, on to the tasting.
True to style, the Southampton alt poured a deep amber, with copper and orange highlights. More carbonation than I expected, with creamy foam that left very little lacing on the glass. (Not much head retention after the first sip, either.) The aroma was full of malt with hints of baked bread and caramel, offset by slightly citrusy hops. The beer followed through with deep malt and caramel flavors, medium body and a nicely balanced hop finish.
The label didn't reveal the alcohol content, but it tastes like a session beer - I'd guess around 5%. Southampton needs to update their website, as this beer was nowhere to be found. The label did indicate that the bottle was produced in Wilkes-Barre, PA -- perhaps by Lion Brewery?
All in all, a solid altbier that I would buy again, and would love to try on draft.