Beers from Port Huron Brewing have started turning up in Madison. The brewery started production this past spring in the Wisconsin Dells, and quickly found the demands from tourists made it difficult to have enough beer to ship anywhere else. "The seasonality of the Dells was bigger than I expected," says owner and brewmaster Tanner Brethorst.
Before opening his own brewery, Brethorst worked with several southern Wisconsin beer makers, including Tom Porter of Lake Louie in Arena; Kirby Nelson, formerly of Capital Brewery in Middleton; and, Rob Larson of Tyranena in Lake Mills. Now, Brethorst is responsible for his beer lineup, which includes a handful of familiar styles, with his Honey Blonde, Hefeweizen and Porter.
But it's Brethorst's Alt Bier that really sets Port Huron apart. That because altbiers are somewhat hard to find from local brewers. So when one does appear, it's always worth checking out.
What is it? Alt Bier from Port Huron Brewing of Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin.
Style: The word "alt" means "old" in German. Altbiers are ales conditioned at cooler temperatures for longer periods, in a way similar to how a lager is made. The technique can create a beer with a distinctive clean and smooth flavor. Port Huron Alt Bier is a traditional German Düsseldorf style. An Alt will range in color from deep bronze to a hazy ruby brown, and commonly have a thick head, malty biscuit or toasted flavors, and sometimes light fruitiness. Some hoppiness may be common -- even a dry finish may be evident; however, overall the altbier is clean and balanced. The alcohol content generally falls between 4.5% and 5.2% ABV. The stronger, darker and richer version is called Sticke, which means secret, a reference to brewers' habit of providing few details as to the beer's recipe.
Background: Port Huron Alt Bier is made with malted wheat, Munich, Vienna and Crystal malts. Brethorst strives for German authenticity in his use of the noble hop Hallertau Mittelfrüh, which lends light floral hoppiness to the nose and a fruity-spicy bitterness to the body. "The cold fermentation of the ale yeast, and the ramped-up amount of hops make it different from what you might expect in typical amber beer," he says.
The altbier takes about a month to fully ferment and condition. It finishes at 4.7% ABV and sells in six-packs for around $9. Port Huron beers are still very new to Madison stores; they can be currently found at Star Liquor on Madison's east side.
Port Huron beers, especially the Honey Blonde, Hefeweizen and Porter, should become easier to find over the winter months. Brethorst also plans to release his Oatmeal Stout in bottles by early December.
- Aroma: A very light hoppy aroma; the malty tones are more evident, with hints of caramel and biscuit.
- Appearance: A clear and brilliant copper body, with a medium marbled tan head.
- Texture: Medium bodied, well carbonated yet overall round and smooth.
- Taste: A nice caramel maltiness to the beginning, with just a slight dry yeasty quality that sneaks into the background of the main flavor body.
- Finish/Aftertaste: A light bitterness continues with that touch of dryness.
Glassware: Alt Bier is traditionally served in a narrow 200 ml (about 7 ounces) glass called a Stange, which translates to "stick" or "staff" in German. It's similar to a small, slender Tom Collins glass. It's great for showing off the deep copper color of this beer while giving a nod to the origins of the style.
Pairs well with: Altbiers go well with roasted meats, but overall it's a very versatile beer for food. I like the caramel tones with the semi-soft mellow sweetness of LaBelle, a buttery Gouda-like table cheese from Koepke Farms of Oconomowoc. Koepke Farms in 2011 received the Aldo Leopold Conservation Award from the Sand County Foundation for its voluntary efforts in conservation and ethical land management.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: Port Huron Alt Bier is medium bodied with a brilliant clear copper color and a crisp flavor profile, all qualities a drinker should expect in a well-made Alt. There is a subtle yeasty dryness in the background that pulls attention away from the smooth caramel maltiness that the style is known for. Nevertheless, this is a very nice clean Alt, and a great introduction to Port Huron for those who want to get to know this new brewery.