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Sticke-ing to the Plan

Sticke Bier is a name broadly given to a special version of top-fermented Dusseldorf-style altbier, generally described as being higher in alcohol and more assertive in character than the traditional version.

The term derives from “stickum,” old Dusseldorf dialect for “gossiping.” In the context of beer, it suggests that the brewer was a bit heavy handed in apportioning the ingredients for a given batch, resulting in a more intense flavor. Legend has it that those in the know would let a select few in on the “secret” that a particular batch was stronger because of the brewer’s “generosity.” In modern times, the assertive character of Sticke is intentional, the result of exacting recipe design.

Although brewers around the world have used the term “Sticke” to describe a more assertive version of altbier, in Germany the name originated with the Zum Uerige pub brewery, located in the Altstadt or “Old City” section of Dusseldorf. A few of the other Dusseldorf breweries make a seasonal strong altbier, each with a unique name. Zum Schlüssel (“The Key”) calls theirs “Stike” (merely dropping the “c” to make the name their own), and another pub brewer, Ferdnand Schumacher, calls their special altbier “Latzenbier,” an apparent reference to the high wooden slats where the rare casks traditionally rested out of view of the less privileged customers.

These special altbiers are notably more assertive in hop character when compared with the traditional altbier and other German styles. Hop bitterness in a typical Sticke can be as high as 60 International Bitterness Units (IBUs) compared with a range of 30–40 IBUs in more conventional altbiers. As in other forms of altbier, the color tends toward dark copper to light brown, and the palate will show fruity notes from a warm fermentation. Alcohol by volume may range from 5.5% to 6.0% compared with a more standard 5.0% in the “everyday” altbiers.

The 2015 revision added a panoply of IPA and Historical and other specialty styles, but strangely collapsed all Altbiers into one category (and, for that matter, indicated explicitly that sticke altbiers didn't belong in that category, without indicating where they should be entered - but I digress…). I guess there's always the good old "Experimental Beer" sub-category, but it feels odd in a style with such a long history.

You'll have to hunt down your own category for entry, but one thing you won't need to do is wonder why you brewed this style in the first place. It takes everything I love about the Altbier and turns up the volume, and while that's not really something you need every day it certainly makes for a great change of pace!

Ultimately, Sticke Alt should be recognizable as an Altbier, but louder.

RECIPE

For a 5 gallon recipe, Start with six pounds of a spring barley like Maris Otter and four pounds of Pilsner malt. Add 1.5 pounds of Munich malt. Finally, we're adding four ounces of pale chocolate, three quarters of a pound of Caramunich II and a quarter-pound of British 90L crystal malt. One reason for the pale chocolate addition is that British dark crystal has some light roasted character in addition to a complex toffee-and-biscuit flavor, and it's a great fit for this recipe.

Tettnanger for bittering hops at 40 IBUs for 60 minutes, then add a full ounce of Tett at 15 minutes remaining to give yourself a more-prominent German floral hops flavor and some additional IBUs. Finally, in whirlpool or at flameout you can add half an ounce of Hallertau Mittelfruh to punch up the aromatics. This beer will be fermented with the Wyeast 1007 yeast.

PROCESS

Attenuation matters in a 5.5% ABV Altbier. It matters even more in a 6.7% Sticke Alt. Mash at 152F for 75 minutes (the additional time will create a slightly more-fermentable wort), then boil, chill, and pitch as usual. Start fermentation a little lower (58F) at the start, then after 72 hours increase to 60F, then increase by one degree per day for the next ten days. We want to ramp up temperature to promote active fermentation right through completion - once you're at 70F, let it sit for an additional two weeks (or, obviously, until a few days after the completion of visible fermentation, whichever is later).

Go ahead and cold-crash before packaging to get a little head start on clarity, but you'll be lagering this beer for a few weeks before consumption. Carbonate to two volumes of CO2 - no need to make it too spritzy!

IN CLOSING

The one flexible item on this one is hopping. I find the 1.5 ounces of late hops to be plenty to add a just-higher-than-moderate level of hops aroma and flavor, but the malt backbone here can hold up to a lot more, both in terms of flavor and bittering. Feel free to increase at will!

Dave Kilgore


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