“Three Cities, Three Styles” is the latest episode of One Pint at a Time.
We are firm believers in beer needing to be tried in context of its culture. “Three Cities, Three Styles” was born out of this belief. We visited three German cities, Dortmund, Düsseldorf and Cologne, that each has it’s own unique style of beer. Over three days, we got to experience each beer style in the place of its birth. That is something special.
So enjoy our latest German adventures…
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Curiosity brought us to Dortmund, the first stop on our “Cities with a Beer Style” tour. Dortmund is the home of Dortmunder Export, a style that is disappearing. Dortmund was once a steel and coal town and Export was the beer of the workers. In the 1970s-80s, these industries died and the jobs along with them. As a result, Export suffered as well.
As the industries died, the Dortmund breweries went through a series of mergers. The medium-sized breweries bought smaller breweries only to be gobbled up by those bigger than them later on. In the end, there were just two breweries left, Dortmund Union Brauerei (DUB) and Dortmunder Actien Brauerei (DAB). Today, Export is a small fraction of their production.
We were curious to visit Dortmund and see what was left of their beer culture.
An early morning flight from Munich got us to Dortmund quickly. We made our way into the city center and dropped our bags at our hotel. We scheduled to meet Barry Masterson, one of the co-founders of Irish Craft Brewers. Barry, a native Dubliner, now lives in nearby Münster. Having returned from a business trip to San Diego the day before, Barry braved jetlag to meet us at Wenkers Brauhaus.
At Wenkers, we tried Export for the first time, as well as the two house beers, an Urtrüb (an unfiltered lager) and Schwarzbier. Wenkers, a brewpub until about 10 years ago when they sold their brewing equipment, has their beers brewed at nearby Hövels Hausbrauerei.
Hearing us speak English, Wenkers’ manager, Jörg, started chatting with us and gave us more information about Dortmunder Export beer. Jörg turned out to be quite knowledgeable about Dortmund beer history and the current attempts to resurrect the style. We also learned about Stösschen, a small glass of beer the miners and steel workers would drink for breakfast.
With a few beers under our belts it was time to see a new brewery on the Dortmund scene. Barry had been nice enough to arrange for a visit to Dortmund Bergmann Brauerei, a brewery working to resurrect the Export beer style. In the 1970’s, a larger brewery purchased Bergmann, then promptly shut it down. The current owner, Thomas Raphael, purchased the name a few years ago. The recipes were lost, so he tapped the brains of all the former brewery workers he could find in order to recreate the beer.
The brewery we visited is new and Bergmann has not yet started brewing at the location. So unfortunately, it didn’t count on the List. Thanks to Barry for setting up the visit and Jonas and Mark for giving us the tour and whisking us around town.
Together with Barry, we walked over to Hövels Hausbrauerei, the one brewpub in town. The main beer at Hövel’s is not Export, but rather a beer called ‘Original’. An amber colored beer with a sweet taste, Original is nothing like Export.
Jörg suggested we ask for the brewer Martin, but when we arrived, Martin was no longer around. We settled in for some lunch and beer. Jörg, taking care of business at the brewery, came up to our table and offered us a tour. We graciously accepted and descended into the cellar brewery. We were happy that this one did count on the List.
The three of us enjoyed Wenkers, so we decided to return there. Together we discussed the merits of the Export beer style. In the end, we decided that Export is not a bad beer, the style simply lacks distinction.
Ever helpful Jörg introduced us to Gerhard, a freelance tour guide who leads walking tours of Dortmund’s beer scene. Gerhard explained that Export costs about 12% more to produce than Pilsner. With little taste difference between the two, most breweries opt to brew Pilsner. The three of us would have liked to ask him more questions about the decline and current resurrection of the Export style, but he was actually leading a tour and could only take a few minutes with us.
Eleven hours after first meeting Barry, we called it a night. He traveled home on the train and we went back to our hotel. Hopefully, we’ll be able to share a few pints with Barry again in the future.
It was an interesting experience. Not knowing what to expect from Dortmund, I guess I didn’t expect to meet passionate beer people. How wrong I was. Despite the demise of Export, the people we met really cared about their Dortmunder beer history and culture. They were definitely passionate people who would like Export to be popular once again.
This will be our ninth visit to Germany, which ties it with Ireland as the country we most frequently visit. The beer, food, scenery and German people keep us returning to our favorite country for beer travel.
But this trip is extra special. We are going over for our friend Wolfgang’s 50th birthday party. We’ll join the horde of his friends descending on Mannheim the last weekend in July for fun, merriment and punk show.
Prior to Wolfgang’s birthday party weekend, we are stopping in Munich and embarking on a “City with a Beer Style” tour. We will visit three German cities: Dortmund, Düsseldorf and Cologne. Each has it’s own unique style of beer.
We are using our short time in the much beloved city of Munich to get our European legs, visit a few biergartens, see friends, and of course drink some liters.
While in Munich we’ll make another pilgrimage to Kloster Andechs. The trek was something we used to fit in to our schedule every time in Munich, but on our last few visits we haven’t had the time. The walk, beer, food, and atmosphere all make Kloster Andechs one our favorite breweries.
After getting adjusted to being back in Europe, we head north for some new beer adventures.
Our first new city will be Dortmund. There we’ll search for Dortmunder, which is a native beer style, not a city resident. Back in the day, this beer was popular with the region’s coal miners and steel workers. Think of Dortmunder as a cross between a Helles and a Pilsner.
Unfortunately, over the last decades, the style has suffered the ill effects of brewery mergers. The two major breweries in Dortmund, DAB and DUB, have gobbled up the smaller competitors. The style that put Dormund on the beer map is now only a small portion of their production. Today, a few private breweries are trying to revive this brew and restore it to it’s past glory.
From Dortmund, we travel down the road to Düsseldorf, the home of the top fermented Altbier. Alt means ‘old’ and the name is simply a reference to the fact that the brew predates bottom fermenting beers.
Unlike it’s neighbor in Dortmund, Altbier is thriving in Düsseldorf, with breweries in the Altstadt serving the copper-colored brew from wooden barrels.
Our last stop on the ‘German Cities with a Beer Style’ tour is Cologne, the home of Kölsch. Another top fermenting brew, the golden-hued Kölsch may be the ultimate session beer. It certainly makes for a enjoyable afternoon with friends.
The waiters buzz around with their trays, called a Kranz, filled with 7 ounce glasses, called a Stange, of Kölsch. They dispense the brew with amazing speed. Once a Stange is empty they drop off a new beer, adding a tick mark to the beer mat. The beer deliveries stop and the ritual comes to an end when the mat is placed on top of the glass. Our last time at Früh am Dom, one of Cologne’s main Kölsch bars, six of us finished with 40 tick marks on our mat.
After Cologne, we are off to Mannheim for three days of revelry celebrating Wolfie’s 50th birthday. Interspersed with the beer drinking, there will be a couple of brewery visits.
The culmination of our trip is a punk show headlined by The Dreadnoughts, an Irish punk band from Vancouver, BC. A good time is sure to be had by all.
We hope to add a dozen new breweries to the list, which will put us within sight of reaching 500 by the end of the year.