Altbier, Dopplebock, Helles, Kolsch, Rauchbier. These are all beer styles you might have heard of or encountered, but they are definitely under-represented in a market dominated by big, juicy, hop bombs. However, just because their influence does not hail from the West Coast of America, it doesn’t mean that they should be dismissed. If session beers are the vogue at the moment, then the Germans must feel everyone is late to the party. Whilst books could, and have, been written about the prototypical beers of these styles brewed over in Germany, there are a select few breweries in the UK that are doing an excellent job of paying homage to these wonderful beers. These breweries are taking styles that have been around for centuries and applying their own twist to them – staying true to the traditional but never copying them.

Mondo Brewery – London Alt, Altbier

Altbier’s are prominently from the Lower Rhine region of Germany, being a particular speciality in the city of Dusseldorf. Brewed for hundreds of years before lagers became popular, “alt” can be directly translated to mean “old”. The reasoning behind this was to distinguish it from the lagers that rose to dominance in the 1800s. Similar to British and American ales, Altbier’s use a top-fermenting yeast at warm temperatures, but are then lagered at cooler temperatures, creating a hybrid style beer. This gives the beer the rounder, cleaner finish of a bottom-fermented ale, with the more complex flavours of a top-fermented ale.

In Dusseldorf, Altbiers are served in brewpubs whose sole offering is the beer brewed on the premises. Within the pubs, waiters circulate with trays of 20cl glasses holding the altbier. Whenever someone has finished their drink, it is instantly replaced and a mark made on their beer mat that are totted up at the end of the night. Unlike most modern craft beer pubs, aside from the the occasionally brewed stronger “sticke” (secret) beer, these places have no interest in offering variety. Their view is that they have brewed these beers for hundreds of years and they’re good enough that you do not need anything else!

Mondo are a brand new brewery in Battersea, set up by ex-employees of London Fields. Part of their core range, London Alt has the dark copper colour of traditional altbiers with a fairly neutral aroma, with only slight hints of hops and toasted grains. The flavour is ever so slightly sweet, with the malt giving the beer toffee and bready characteristics. The dry finish makes it what all good altbiers should be – incredibly drinkable. Perfect for long sessions, this beer will see you well through an evening of beer drinking.

If you like this beer, try Orbit’s Neu

Siren – Calypso, Berliner Weisse

As the style name suggests, this beer originates from Berlin and is predominantly made from wheat. However, what the name doesn’t tell you is that this is a sour style. Dating back to at least the 1500s, this style was incredibly popular during the 19th Century with up to 700 breweries producing it. Since then it’s stock has  plummeted with only a handful of German breweries still brewing them. Indeed, such was its popularity that Napoleon had dubbed it the “champagne of the North” due to their lively effervescence and sharp finish. Typically these beers would be 3.0% ABV or below, however, do not think that a low ABV is indicative of a low flavour beer!

Traditional Berliner Weisse have a very sharp, acidic sourness with very little hop aroma or flavour coming through. This sourness is achieved through the use of a culture of lactobacillus bacteria that metabolises sugars produced in the malt to produce lactic acid. Normally lactic acid is undesirable in beers, but is essential in sours – one of the reasons why, when trying their first sour, people often remark that the beer has gone bad! It is believed that when they were originally brewed, they may have been stored in earthenware buried underneath warm sand to facilitate the bacteria’s metabolism. When served nowadays, it is more often than not accompanied by a flavoured syrup, either raspberry or woodruff, that cause it to become violently red or green, respectively.

Siren’s Calypso is a single hopped Berliner Weisse that changes the hop with each batch, creating a slight bitterness within the beer that is not normally associated with the style. However, this beer is named after the Greek goddess Calypso who was famed for her sharp tongue, and this beer most definitely has a sharp tartness about it! At 4.0% ABV it is slightly boozier than what you would expect a Berlinner Weisse to be, but this does not come across in the flavour or aroma of the beer itself. The beer pours a cloudy pale yellow, creating an instant, funky aroma. Each hop brings its own distinct twist to this beer. Citra causes a very sharp, citrus and grapefruit bitter/sourness on the finish whilst mosaic has more of a melon flavour, not quite as sharp but a bit more tangy. This is the perfect aperitif, or a drink to keep you company in the hot sun.

If you like this, try Chrolton’s Woodruff Berliner or Buxton’s Red Raspberry Rye

Belleville – Balham Black, Schwarzbier

German for “black beer”, schwarzbier is a dark lager that, whilst it may appear black like a stout or porter, could never be mistaken for one when being drunk. Although lagers weren’t brewed in Germany until the 16th Century, the forefathers of schwarzbier were being brewed at early 1174. However, back then dark and black beers would have been the norm as most malt would have been darkened due to the smoke produced when kilning it, causing darker beers. It wasn’t until the use of almost smokeless coke in the mid-1600s that amber coloured beers would have been common, and not until the 1840s that Pilsner Urquell developed the very light pilsner malt.

By the time schwarzbiers have evolved to become what they are today, they would mostly contain a mixture of dark and light malt. The dark for the colour and maybe slight aromas of coffee, and the light for the clean, rounded flavour – certainly no roastedness that is associated with porters! The Balham Black is an excellent example of this style. The aroma is of sweet caramel and a slight richness, but with a distinctive touch of lager. The flavour is mellow, again showing obvious lager characteristics but with a more bready, dry finish. If you close your eyes, you will be unaware of the colour of your beer. However, this shows one of the many ways that the often slated lager style can be made interesting if given a little TLC.

If you like this, try Chorlton’s EclipseThis article is part of our XL series, in which we expand on topics from our weekly emails. You can see the original Cologne-ing German Beers here.