Beer Review 0409: Terrapin Tree Hugger Altbier

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New for 2013 from Athens, Georgia’s Terrapin Beer Company is Tree Hugger, a year-round beer that is brewed in a style that will probably be unfamiliar to casual drinkers: Altbier.

Altbier translates to old beer, which refers to the pre-lager brewing method using top-fermenting yeast. This beer is lagered after fermentation, which makes it cleaner and crisper than other top-fermented beers. The Altbier style first came about in the Rhineland area of Germany, where temperatures were cooler, allowing brewers to make beer year-round (in most parts of Germany, brewing was illegal during the warm months). With the ability to brew year-round, it allowed brewers to experiment with storing the beer in cool cellars. The first recorded use of the name Altbier was in 1838.

Terrapin have named this beer “Tree Hugger” to show support for Dogwood Alliance, which is an organization that protects Southern forests from destructive logging practices. Coming in at 5% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 30 IBUs (International Bitterness Units), the hopping schedule features Mt. Hood and Vanguard, while the malt bill consists of 2-Row Pale, Munich, Caramunich II, Melanoidin, and Carafa II.

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The pour delivered a large, creamy, off-white and dense head that sat fluffily atop a very dark amber brew. Although dark, the beer was translucent, and there were no particles or sediment. Lacing was excellent from the moment the head began to diminish, leaving behind thick pods of foam stuck to the glass.

On the nose, this is a nicely balanced beer, but it does lean more toward the malty end rather than hops. There are sweet notes of caramel, teamed with a bready, almost yeasty scent that provides a general roast and toast. The hops are present with a touch of grass and mostly an herbal, slightly spicy tone. As the drink warms, a minor coffee note comes out, along with a small suggestion of grapefruit.

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Tasting sees the bready caramel hit the palate up front, creamy and almost buttery. But there’s a hoppy punch in the middle with a hit of herbal and spicy hop that brings on a mild bitterness. Toasted bread leads to the finish, which has some lingering caramel, mild burnt toast, and a very mild bitterness that helps to clean off the tongue. Tree Hugger is light-bodied, with a thin, foamy mouthfeel.

A pleasant little beer indeed — I applaud Terrapin for making a sessionable beer that isn’t an IPA. This is different and quite on par with what the Altbier style calls for. An easy drinker with decent and simple flavors; perhaps this would make a wonderful transition beer for your macro lager friends, while leaving you satisfied as well.

Terrapin Tree Hugger Altbier, 89 points. Price: $1.99 US for one twelve ounce bottle.

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