A consistent desire while writing this my blog was to drink the various beer styles in their hometowns. To do this is to gain a greater understanding of how the classic versions of these beers taste, to learn how people enjoy them locally, to see their influence locally, and then to try and understand their place in the rest of the world. With northern Europe being the old world of brewing, it’s there that most of these traditional beers can be found.
Germany is especially interesting to travel around, as there are great regional differences in the beers, depending on where you drink: in the north, the lagers are crisp, light, bitter, lean, and dry; in Upper Franconia, the amber lagers are rich in malt and round in the middle; around Munich, the Helles lagers are smooth and toasty, elegant and gluggable; while the Dunkel lagers are smooth with darker malts, but certainly not dark or coffee-like in flavor, especially when compared with the drier, roasted Schwarzbiers of central north Germany.
Drinking The Regional Beers Of Germany It’s A Lager-Lover’s Dream Photo Gallery
Then there are the idiosyncrasies: Bamberg’s smoked beers, the sour wheat beers of Leipzig and Berlin, the occasional Franconian red or brown lager, and the community-brewed Zoiglbiers of the Oberpfalz (see post 114). Then there’s Kölsch and Altbier, from Cologne and Düsseldorf, respectively, in the North Rhine-Westphalia, in the west of Germany. To travel around the whole of Germany and to drink locally is to taste a wide variety of traditional beers.
A small selection of the range of beers on the German brewing scene.
Altbier in Düsseldorf and Kölsch in Cologne
LOCAL BEER STYLES AND A UNIQUE LOCAL RIVALRY
Düsseldorf has its brown Altbiers. They are toasty with dark malts and most are very bitter and dry. The name refers to the old style of ales long-brewed in this part of the world and the town’s resolution to stick to their traditional beer style, as pale lager spread around Germany.
Just 25 miles (40km) away in the cathedral city of Cologne, you’ll find Kölsch, gleaming gold, light, refreshing, and delicately hoppy; while these may look like lagers, they are brewed as ales. As with Altbier, Kölsch was a local backlash against pale lager’s dominance, where they stuck with their local top-fermented style.
Drink in Düsseldorf and small glasses of brown Altbier are almost exclusively what you’ll see; go to Cologne and it’ll just be golden Kölsch. Nowhere else in the beer world does one unique type of beer dominate such a small, parochial area in the same way as these two beers in these two neighboring cities. The love-hate relationship between the two cities is built on their beers (but goes way deeper), so don’t even think about trying to order an Altbier in Cologne, or vice versa.
Part of the fun of these beers is how they’re served: they come in small 7fl-oz (200-ml) glasses, handed to you by köbes who carry the full glasses on trays, whipping away the empties as soon as you take your last sip. And both cities do this, meaning they’re actually ironically similar for two places that want to make out they’re very different.
Drinking Altbier in Düsseldorf and Kölsch in Cologne are two unmissable stops on a world-beer tour. The styles have become popular around the world—especially the clean, crisp Kölsch— but to drink them in their hometowns, where the beers are objects of delicious local pride, is to gain a wonderful insight into both the beers and the places. Plus, the cities are very nice to visit and easily explored on foot, meaning you can drink in a lot of different breweries and bars.
There is a lot more to the story of Kölsch versus Altbier, but, if you do decide to visit, then my top beer in each place is the snappy, aromatic, and bitter Kölsch in Päffgen, which is served from wooden barrels, while in Düsseldorf I love how the refreshing bitterness of Schlussel’s Altbier balances the toasty, toffee, and earthy malts.
Früh Kölsch is an ever-present on the streets of Cologne.
LOCAL TIP: Where to Drink
In Düsseldorf you will find great Altbier at Brauerei Schumacher, Uerige beer hall, and Zum Schlüssel brauhaus. The latter is on Bolkerstraße, known locally as the “largest bar top in the world.” In Cologne, be sure to pay a visit to Früh am Dom, Päffgen brauhaus, and Brausteller, one of Germany’s smallest and most unusual breweries.