Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Double Alt Smackdown

A couple years ago I became obsessed with Alts. I was confused by the wide variation of different beers called "alt" -- the bland industrial alts I remembered from a trip to Germany had nothing in common with the Lucky Lab's Crazy Ludwig's Alt, which was a far cry from Alaskan Amber. Then I brought home a Pinkus Muenster Alt from Belmont Station, and I didn't know which way was up. It took samplings of Uerige Alt and Widmer Alt to set me on the right path.

Uerige also makes a double alt -- called Doppelsticke Alt -- which is nearly twice as strong. Double alts are catching on around Portland as well: Dave Fleming did one at the Lucky Lab before he left there a couple years ago; Hopworks did one a year or so ago; Widmer -- whose (single) Alt was their original flagship -- released 84/09 Double Alt to commemorate their 25th anniversary last year; and Ninkasi's somewhat counter-intuitive choice for a winter seasonal is a double alt called Sleigh'r.

Back in December I picked up a bottle each of the Sleigh'r, Uerige Doppelsticke, and 84/09, intending to corral some friends to help me blind-taste and compare the three. With one thing and another, I never got around to it, but I finally got motivated last week when my friend Brett ordered a glass of the Green Dragon/Oregon Brew Crew double alt -- yes, another Portland version of the style -- and gave me a taste of it.  That was the final straw: I dragged Brett and Lindsey over to my house to finally do the comparison.

My feelings about these double alts are contradictory.  The couple of times I've had the Uerige in the past, I found it too syrupy.  I recognize that someone could make the same complaint about the Widmer, and yet something about it grabs me: it was one of my favorite new beers last year.  On the other hand, Sleigh'r is a drier, more restrained version, but for some reason it doesn't grab me.

So, going into the blind tasting, I expected to like Widmer the best, Uerige next, and Ninkasi third.  Interestingly, when we compared notes later, that was what the other guys expected their preferences would be, too.  Lindsey won the contest, because he correctly identified all three.  I was able to spot the Ninkasi, but I confused Widmer and Uerige.  Brett amazed us by getting all the beers wrong: he thought Ninkasi was Widmer, Uerige was Ninkasi, and Widmer was Uerige.  I assume it was his first time to try Sleigh'r and -- like Jeff Alworth -- he wouldn't have imagined Ninkasi using a lighter touch than Widmer. With that bit of background, he might have made the same guesses as I did.

The Doppelsticke was my favorite of the three, which surprised me since it had rubbed me the wrong way in the past.  Lindsey said he couldn't pick a favorite between Widmer and Uerige.  Sleigh'r was Brett's favorite.  That's two first-place votes for Uerige, one for Ninkasi.  Widmer seemed to have all-around appeal:  it got Brett's and my second-place votes, and Lindsey's tie-for-first.  Brett and I also agreed that the Green Dragon's version was most like the Uerige, so kudos to the Brew Crew for nailing it.

Too bad I didn't get this tasting done while 84/09 and Sleigh'r were still widely available, but if you're interested in double alts, you still might find a few bottles of them at the usual places.

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