Seems Like Alt Times

After spending two days in Düsseldorf, I am somewhat embarrassed that this was our first visit to the home of Altbier. From the moment we entered our first brewery, we realized that this city’s beer culture was something special.

A Barrel of Alt
A Barrel of Altbier

After a short train ride from Dortmund, we deposited our bags in the hotel room and were off to Düsseldorf’s Altstadt to find some Altbier.  There are three breweries in the Altstadt. A fourth, Brauerei Schumacher, is just outside the city’s old quarter. It was our first stop, as it was on the way to the Altstadt from our hotel.

We walked into the entrance and were immediately greeted by the sight of the bartender pouring the amber-colored Alt from a wooden barrel. ‘Alt’ simply means ‘old’ in German and the name is a reference to the brew predating the development of bottom fermenting beers. However, an Altbier is lagered.

The waiter serving Altbier to thirsty customers

After investigating the series of rooms that makes up the Schumacher dining room, we discovered a beer garden in the back that butts up against the brewery. The sun shined warm. It was the first really nice day of our trip, so the beer garden was the place for us. The waiter promptly brought us the first of many Alts we would  drink during the day. The Altbier delivery system is very similar to that of Kölsch in Köln. Waiters cruise around with trays of Altbier replacing empties with full glasses of beer and keeping tally by ticking a beer mat.

As we watched the brewery workers go about their daily routine, we tasted the beer that made Düsseldorf famous. Schumacher’s Alt was clean and crisp, something I expect from all German beer. It was topped by a really nice hop bite.

Merideth enjoying Ueriges Altbier
Merideth enjoying Uerige’s Altbier

After lunch and a few Alts at Schumacher, it was off the the Altstadt, the bustling core of Düsseldorf. We quickly found Uerige, a brewery a stone’s throw from the Rhein.

Uerige, like Schumacher, did a good business for a Tuesday afternoon and we joined the crowd of beer drinkers on the sidewalk. With all the tables outside filled, we found a space in one of the window sills. Halfway through our first Uerige Alt, we realized they also had a series of tables across the cobbled lane, but decided we were happy with our sill.

Do all the Altbiers taste the same in Düsseldorf? The quick answer is no, with Uerige being sweeter and hoppier than the first Alt we tasted at Schumacher. A German gentleman with whom we struck up a conversation, suggested that you can’t drink the other Düsseldorf Alts after Uerige. Uerige’s aggressively-hopped version makes everything else taste very weak.

A barge on the mighty Rhine
A barge on the mighty Rhein

We needed a short break from the Altbier, so we walked down to the Rhein for a stroll. Plus, we needed to record the introduction to the One Pint at a Time episode. I thought the Rhein would be the perfect backdrop for our first episode outside of Bavaria.

The walk along the Rhein was nice and a pleasant breeze took a bit of the edge off the warm day. I had visions of stopping at one of the multitude of restaurants to enjoy a beer and the view. But the pathway along the Rhein was not a beer drinkers paradise. We passed one Caribbean-themed restaurant after another. The German tourists loved it.

Merideth at Brauerei im Füchschen
Merideth at Brauerei im Füchschen

Introduction filmed and sightseeing completed, we hiked back up into the Altstadt to find our third Altbier brewery, Brauerei im Füchschen. Their Altbier was much more like Schumacher in flavor, just not as hoppy.

Seemingly the smallest of the four breweries, they also seemed to have the largest number of  ‘locals’ enjoying a few Altbiers in the afternoon. As we drank our Füchschen Altbier, we listened to a group of friends talk amongst themselves, as well as to passers by. Judging by the level of laughter and banter, it appeared to be lots kind-hearted ribbing amongst friends.

Tick marks at Schlüssel
Tick marks at Schlüssel

By now, it was late afternoon. We had been drinking Altbier for five hours but we still had one more brewery to go, Hausbrauerei zum Schlüssel.

Sitting outside at Schlüssel, we saw two guys that we had seen at all the other breweries that day, except Uerige. They were obviously, like us, on a beer tour and also Americans. Merideth talked to them and these two guys, former brewers at a New England brewery, joined us for what turned out to be a long, fun-filled evening.

We spent five hours at Schlüssel and chatted with some older Germans who sat next to us. I jokingly tried so switch our ever increasing tick-marked mat with my elder German friend’s. With only a couple of marks on his mat, he wasn’t too interested in switching.

Bettering American-Slovak relations

Half way through the evening, we were joined by a group of Slovaks. One of them spoke English, so he interpreted for the rest of the group. They were curious about our careers in America and travels. They were a worldly lot of Slovaks and told us about some of their own adventures. Even a huge thunderstorm and downpour couldn’t deter the fun of the night, though it did shut down beer delivery for a short, but excruciating amount of time.

At the beginning of the day, Merideth and I did our normal solo beer touring.  But by the end of the evening, we were in an international group of beer tourists. Funny how that always seems to happen in beer travel. It certainly makes the new experiences seem like alt times.

Most of Tuesdays Altbier tally
Most of Tuesday’s Altbier tally


4 Replies to “Seems Like Alt Times”

  1. Seems you had a great time in Düsseldorf.
    It was nice,but definitly not a place i would visit again.
    I disagree&say the alts were pretty much the same,however we didn’t try them side by side which would have been great.
    Maybe i’d Schumacher had to choose one.

  2. I disagree. I lived there for a year and a half about 15 years back, and was last there 5 years ago. It’s not much for tourism, yes, unless you’re a beer geek. Then it’s a must. The differences between altbiers are subtle. Most important, though, is that they are much like cask ales in the sense that there’s a quality to them that’s lost when they are dispensed by CO2. You have to drink them from the wooden keg, dispensed by gravity. (the same applies to Kolsch, maybe even more so because its flavor is so delicate). Uerige is indeed the standard. Schumacher is pretty close; maybe a touch less hoppy. Fuchschen is sharper than Uerige, to my tongue, a bit less balanced. Schlussel is not in the same league, being much less hoppy and sweeter. Of the several commercial breweries, Frankenheim stands out. Uerige also makes a weizenbier, but not really in the Bavarian style.

    But also, Dusseldorf has the wonderful Pilsner Urquell Brauerei Ausschank (literally, “brewery outlet”) in the Altstadt, where you can get draft Urquell and Budweiser Budvar, and as far as I know is the only place outside Prague where you can get U Fleku. The bar is gorgeous.

    I wonder if the Paulaner Botschaft (“embassy”) is still there, a place you can get all the Paulaner beers from Munich.

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