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Oh de Cologne

A short distance down the Rhein from Düsseldorf is Köln, our last beer style city of the trip. This was our third time to Germany’s oldest city, but our first time really exploring beyond the Dom, the dominant landmark of the city.

Kölns dominant feature... the Dom
Köln’s dominant landmark, the Dom

Köln is the home of Kölsch, another top fermented and lagered German beer. Köln is also the only German city with it’s own self-styled appellation control. The Kölsch Convention was a 1985 agreement between the breweries and the German government that defined the beer. Besides some technical details of the brew, the main tenet was that in order for the beer to be called Kölsch, it had to be brewed in the Köln metropolitan area.

A light and refreshing session beer, Kölsch has a nice, subtle hop presence. It’s not a beer that is going to challenge the palate.

We arrived mid-morning via the train, found our hotel and dropped our bags off. It was time to find some Kölsch. And some breakfast.

Kölsch at Malzühle with breakfast
Kölsch at Malzmühle with breakfast

It seemed a tad early for beer drinking, despite Früh am Dom being open. We passed on Früh because we were filming there later. Wandering past the Dom and into the Alststadt, we came to Peters Brauhaus. It wasn’t open yet.

Plugging on, we arrived at Brauerei zur Malzmühle, a brewery we tackled on our first visit. We were happy to find them open. We situated ourselves at a table and ordered a few  Kölsch and an omelet. I remembered from our 2005 visit liking the Mühlen Kölsch. And it turned out to be my favorite one of the day.

From Malzmühle, it was back to Peters Brauhaus to try their Kölsch.  A former brewery, Peters fell victim to the mergers in the German brewing industry. In fact, a number of the breweries that signed the convention back in 1985, like Peters, survive  today just as a brand in a larger brewery’s portfolio. Their “brauhaus” is sure pretty though.

In the shadow of the Dom, Früh am Dom
Kölsch is typically dispensed from a wooden barrel

Next stop was Früh am Dom for lunch. Früh, as it always seems, was bustling with a lunchtime crowd. The waiters (and they are always waiters) buzzed around with their trays, dispensing the golden brew. We found a seat and soon had a Kölsch in hand and food ordered.

We like Früh a lot. The beer is nice. The atmosphere is buzzing. When I talk to people about the wonderful experience of drinking Kölsch in Köln, I am usually talking about being at Früh.

After a short rest at our hotel, the quest for Kölsch continued.  The plan for the afternoon was to visit four Kölsch bars before returning to Früh to film the evening action.

Our tick marks at Brauerei Päffgen

A short 15 minute walk away from the crowds around the Dom, we found Brauerei Päffgen. What a difference a 15 minute walk makes. We joined a sparse crowd in the breweries central courtyard beer garden.

Though one of the  least favorite Kölsch we would try on this day, we were happy to be at Päffgen. After four stops, finally, a new brewery to put on the List!

Continuing our walk, we followed a course that took us along the medieval city walls of Köln. Or what was left of them. After 20 minutes, we found our next stop Weißbräu zu Köln. Despite the name, the brewery also makes a Kölsch.

Hellers Wiess, an unfiltered version of their Kölsch
Hellers Wiess, an unfiltered version of their Kölsch

If we had one disappointment of the day, it was finding Weißbräu zu Köln closed for the next month. We could see brewers at work, but the restaurant part looked like it was being remodeled.

Undaunted, we continued our trek to Hellers Brauhaus, an organic brewery.  Into our second beer, we struck up a conversation with our waiter. We explained that we had a day in Köln and that we were trying a bunch of different Kölsch. Besides offering suggestions, he also brought us over two Hellers Wiess, an unfiltered version of their Kölsch. Score one for the Hellers Brauhaus staff!

Hanging out in the Altstady at Sünner in Walfisch.
Hanging out in the Altstadt at Sünner im Walfisch.

We walked almost the entire outer ring of Köln, so we decided to cab it back into the city center. We headed to Sünner im Walfisch in the Altstadt. This was a special stop. On the front of the building it said “Historisches Brauhaus’ above the name.  It was a brewery in the 1800s when the building was located elsewhere. But for our  purposes, Gebruder Sünner was significant  because they were the first to brew Kölsch in around 1900.

The day was winding down but we needed to make a return visit to Früh. I wanted video of the evening crowd and Merideth’s episode conclusion. We needed some dinner, too. Of course a few more Frühs were had.

There is a reason it is called Gaffel am Dom
There is a reason it is called Gaffel am Dom

We made one more stop before going back to our hotel. The Gaffel Kölsch at Gaffel Am Dom was the seventh example of the style we tried during our day in Köln. In the end, there really wasn’t much difference in flavor, some just tasted better than others.

I am a firm believer in beer needing to be tried in the context of it’s culture. And Kölsch  is a perfect example of this. Outside of Köln, it’s just a light session beer. But to experience it in the city of its birth, now that’s something special.

 

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.

Altbier
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

 

A Tale of One City

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.

Kronen Export
Kronen Export

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.

Stösschen
Stösschen

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.

Merideth with a DBB Export
Merideth with a DBB Export

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.

The brewhouse at Hövels Hausbraurei
The brewhouse at Hövels Hausbraurei

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.

Discussing the merits of Export
Discussing the merits of Export

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.

The old DUB breweriy is being converted into a cultural center
The old DUB brewery is being converted into a cultural center

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.