For years, Doug Hager of Philadelphia’s Brauhaus Schmitz has tried to get his hands on an imported, draft altbier. His German beer bar pours 30 drafts, including some exclusive to the brauhaus. But the traditional altbier, a cold-fermented ale brewed almost exclusively in Dusseldorf, remained his white whale.
“I really enjoyed altbier [when I lived in Germany], but when I came back to the U.S., it was the one style that I wasn’t really able to get my hands on,” he says. “I like it because there aren’t that many German ales. You’ve basically got wheat beers, kolsches and altbiers. It’s a style that a lot of people haven’t had before because it’s just not available in the U.S.”
Finally, this weekend, Hager’s search ends. The importer Shelton Brothers was able to supply Brauhaus Schmitz with kegs of Fuchschen Alt (pronounced “fook-shen alt”), making the bar the first in America to tap it. While some American craft brewers, including Devil’s Backbone and Redwood Curtain, brew the style, few altbiers from Dusseldorf make it to America, especially on draft. It’s a big enough deal that the Fuchschen brewers have decided to kick off the stateside launch by attending the party on Saturday, March 14.
Hager is encouraged by the arrival of the style, which is something like a hybrid beer that offers the crispness of a lager with some ale fruitiness. In the six years he’s owned Brauhaus Schmitz, he’s seen interest in German beers pick up steam, contributing to the rediscovery of lagers.
“There’s a pretty big movement going on in Philadelphia for German styles. A lot of our breweries here are starting to make goses and Berliner weisses; you didn’t see this years ago,” he says. “I think it’s because there are so many new, small breweries that just having a good IPA or a good wheat beer, that’s not good enough anymore. People really are getting into lagers again.”
Craft drinkers who were turned off by their parents’ watery adjunct lagers are rediscovering the spectrum of full-flavored, easy-drinking traditional German styles, according to Hager.
“You’re seeing a huge resurgence in appreciation for lagers that aren’t the macrobrews. Everybody thinks pilsners are Miller Lites, but that’s not what a pilsner really is. So yes, there’s definitely a movement back to German styles. It’s cool to be German again, I guess.”