Les Trois Mousquetaires - Sticke Alt
Suggested Glassware:Stange or Pilsner
The altbier style, as we know it today, retraces its origins back to Düsseldorf, which currently serves as the capital of Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia state. The name “altbier” literally translates to “old beer,” though this points more to the city’s Altstadt (or “old town”) region and the regional beer style’s historical position relative to pale lager than it does to the age of the beers themselves. (Altbiers are generally best consumed fresh.) Like those top-fermented styles of nearby Cologne and Dortmund – Kölsch and Adambier, respectively, of which only the former exists today in any significant quantity – altbiers were most often fermented with ale yeast. With the rapid international spread of pale lagers in the middle of the 19th century, the altbiers of Düsseldorf both (1) found their current, slightly misleading name and (2) were gradually transitioned to incorporate lengthier periods of cold conditioning (i.e. lagering).
Today, Düsseldorf-style altbiers are typically hop-forward hybrids: amber-ish in color, firmly bitter (though not in a citrusy-IPA sense), and offering restrained fruitiness from their yeast. When Rare Beer Club founder Michael Jackson sampled a lineup of altbiers from what were then the six largest producers of the style (this was back around 1996, or so), he remarked, “I enjoyed them all, but any of them would have been improved by a little more hop.”
We think our current selection might have just done the trick.
Les Trois Mousquetaires Sticke Alt (“sticke” translates to “special”: a less frequent and more potent variety) pours a deep amber color topped by firm, off-white foam: miniscule bubbles, strong retention, and lacing that coats the glass. There’s something of a California-Common profile to this beer (this particular example even uses that style’s typifying Northern Brewer hops), including the relaxed fruits, the pitch-perfect level of zesty bitterness (if we’re thinking along the lines of Anchor Steam), the lively carbonation, and the overall profile of just being a hugely drinkable, satisfying rendition. Here, the hop character is more of the noble variety, teetering toward minerals and herbs, and firmly situated within a traditional, European feel.
The aroma is forward in its mineral bitterness, showing hints of pine needles, some modest and vinous alcoholic warmth (particularly as it warms), and ripe, red-apple character melded with caramelized notes. As a whole, there’s the suggestion of a caramel-apple quality, but the sweetness (and here’s one true measure of the brewing behind this beer) is well reserved and remains secondary to those bitter, assertive mineral notes. The alcohol’s quite welcome, and, as this is allowed to warm further, the red apple aromatics and vinous qualities increase.
Mineral and herbal hops hit the tip of the tongue first, offering a strong bitterness that’s well presented and never errs on the side of astringency. There’s lively carbonation (continuously scrubbing bitterness from the tongue), while an earnest follow-through of red fruits, lightly toasted malts, caramel, and a touch of grape-like brightness play out through the mid-palate and beyond. This is a prime example of what the heftier versions of altbier can bring to the table, with an expressive bitterness that’s never overwhelming and slowly recedes to a mild, toasty finish that’s pleasantly balanced and food appropriate. Occasionally one can lose sight of how brilliant “old” beer styles can be, and that basic malts, noble-style hops, precise yeast handling, and an artistic attention to detail can yield some of the finest beer in the world. We are excited to have found an example of sticke altbier that serves as a delicious reminder.
Aside from through The Rare Beer Club, Les Trois Mousquetaires Sticke Alt currently has no planned distribution in the U.S. We’re pleased to be able to offer our members this atypically apt rendition of altbier, and we’d encourage you to try it with the bottle’s given pairings: hot sausage (the hop bitterness amplifying its spice), grilled meats (melding with the caramel and red fruits), and semi-soft cheeses (with the palate-cleansing mineral notes and effervescence).
The Québécois good-beer scene is perhaps most renowned for breweries like Unibroue and Dieu du Ciel!, both of which see significant distribution throughout the States, but it’s small-scale operations like Les Trois Mousquetaires that remind us that it’s almost always better to visit. Located directly southeast of Montreal, about an hour north from the Vermont border, the brewery exports only a few occasional offerings, most often their hefty Porter Baltique.
Les Trois Mousquetaires got its start back in 2004, shortly after its three founders (hence the Alexandre Dumas reference; “One for all, all for one”) had lost their jobs when a production plant was moved to Ontario. Using their experience as production engineers, they decided to purchase a small brewing operation on the north shore of Montreal. (We’re glad they did!) In 2008, brewer Alex Ganivet-Boileau took over the brewing responsibilities, and over the years the company has expanded its lineup from a pair of lagers to its current, expansive focus on German-style creations. Like the Greater Montreal region itself, the Les Trios Mousquetaires offerings (Maibock, Rauchbier, Kellerbier…) capture a certain Old-World, European charm.
Of those German-style possibilities, we were particularly thrilled with Alex’s take on an older style that can be pretty challenging to track down (especially fresh) in the States – and really just about everywhere else in the world aside from Düsseldorf. The Les Trois Mousquetaires Sticke Alt, like most of their beers, utilizes 100% Québec-produced malted barley, and there are plans afoot to shift their entire production to locally grown malts and hops over the next few years. Their Sticke Alt was inspired by a visit to the famous Uerige brewery in Germany, which (for most imbibers) is often one’s first and only encounter with sticke altbier. As Alex puts it, the Les Trois Mousquetaires version is similarly made, “only with a Québec touch!”
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