Pronunciation guide for English-speakers:
A darker and stronger, seasonal, variation of the traditional Düsseldorf Altbier. Invented by the Uerige brewpub of Düsseldorf, it is brewed only twice a year and is ready for tapping on the third Tuesday in January and the third Tuesday in October, respectively.
Another Düsseldorf brewpub, Schumacher, serves a similar brew, also twice a year, which it calls Latzenbier. At Schumacher, the Latzenbier dates are usually around the middle to end of September 19 as well as towards the end of November.
"Sticke" is local vernacular for "secret," which means the brewery does not reveal the recipe. This much however can be acertained by tasting this rare beer style: The brew is full-bodied and well-hopped, with a surprising balance between bitterness and nutty-malty sweetness, overlaid by strong notes of chocolate and roasted, but not acrid, malt. A Sticke Alt is usually dark-copper in color, has the flavor complexity of an ale, the noble hop bouquet and creamy head of a Pils, and the clean, mellow-smooth finish of an Oktoberfest. Its typical alcohol level by volume is about 5.5%sometimes highercompared to the 4.7 to 4.8% of a regular Altbier. The Uerige brewpub also makes an even stronger Sticke, called a Doppelsticke, at about 8.5% alcohol by volume. Uerige Sticke Alt is imported into the United States in 0.3-liter, wire-baled pop-top bottles and is seasonally available in many specialty beer outlets. Serve Sticke Alt at around 45 to 50°F (7 to 10°C).
The World's Most "Secret" and Rarest Brew
Twice a year, on the third Tuesday in January and on the third Tuesday in October, a ritual is re-enacted in the dark and smoky recesses of the hallowed halls of an old brewpub, the Uerige in Düsseldorf in the Rheinland. There, a crod of cognoscenti gathers expectantly in the taproom, as if they are members of a secret society about to witness an exclusive eventthe tapping of the season's first wooden cask of a rare, aged ale, called Sticke Alt.
Sticke is the strongest and scarcest Altbier there is! To understand its strange name, we must first delve into a bit of linguistic history: "Sticke" is a mangled version of the "plattdeutsch" (low-German) word "stickum," which translates into English as "secret." The origin of the Sticke, according to local lore, dates from a time when beer ingredients were still measured rather haphazardly by the bucketful. If the brewmaster made a "mistake" and mashed in too generous an amount of malt, he also had to add an extra dose of hops for balance. The finished beer from such a batch would be a strong and substantial beverage. In a sense, Sticke is to Altbier ale what Bockbier is to a regular lager. Because the Sticke started out as a mistake, it was rarely brewed the same way twice. The news of a brewmaster's mistake, of course, normally would get around quickly among the initiated, who would pass the secret by word of mouth, behind cupped hands, in a "stickum" or "sticke" sort of way... and to be in on the secret was quite a privilege. It is said that this "stickum" hot tip, shared among the aficionados, then became the origin of the beer's name. Nowadays, however, Sticke brewers have abandoned the secrecy sourrounding the unveiling of the Sticke. Instead, they keep the Sticke tradition alive by advertising the dates of their special offerings in the media, on posters, and on their websites.
A second Düsseldorf brewpub making a Sticke-like seasonal beer is the Schumacher, about a mile east from the Uerige pub. At Schumacher, which started brewing in 1838 and is today the oldest Altbier brewpub in the world, the Sticke brew is called Latzenbier. Apparently, the Schumacher brew's name dates from a time when monasteries still dominated the brewing trade and ordinary folk were served only thin beer, known then as "convent beer." But the real stuff, the strong beer, was stored high up on "Latten" or "Latzen" (wooden slats) out of sight of the hard-up commoners. This top-shelf brew, or Latzenbier, would be reserved only for the brew monks themselves or sold secretly, or "sticke," to only to the deserving folk, that is, those with ample cash to make the pious friars rich.
With modern quality control in the brew house, of course, the old brewmasters' accidents that spawned the Sticke no longer happen. But many Altbier makers have now revived the Sticke tradition, by making a deliberate "mistake" occasionally as a surprise. They let their brewmasters "loose" to give them a chance to play with their ingredients and create a free-style, strong Altbier. Once tapped, the Sticke flows until the batch is completely drained, which rarely takes more than a few days. Nowadays Sticke is meant primarily as a thank-you to regulars. Although stronger and more expensive to make, Sticke is always sold at the normal Altbier price. Non-regulars, of course, are served these special beers, too, as long as they know when to show up at the brewpub to get them.