One of the most enjoyable experiences for me as a beer lover is to enjoy beers at their source. Beer geeks travel the world far and wide to enjoy what the world of beer has to offer. Germany is without question one of the world’s greatest brewing nations, and a trip to Germany is order for any beer lover. Munich immediately comes to mind when a “beer trip” to Germany comes to mind, but I am happy to say, there are other parts of Germany that are worthy a visit, who enjoy their own unique beer styles, and beer cultures. If you ever decide to take a trip to Germany, a visit to the state of North Rhine-Westphalia is in order. It is here that you will find many of the industries that help fuel the German economy, and it is here that you will find the cities of Cologne, and Düsseldorf. Düsseldorf is a thriving city, with lots of big industry, but don’t let the industrial nature of the city throw you off, as there is a lot to do and see. The Konigsallee has some of the best shopping to be found in Germany, with plenty of chic choices for those who love to shop. And then there is the Altstadt. It is here you will find a very vibrant night life, with scores of restaurants, and bars.
OK. So why Düsseldorf? The answer to anyone who is familiar with German beer, already knows the answer. Düsseldorf is the home of a very special beer style known as altbier. It is one of my all time favorite beer styles, and is one I sorely do not get enough of. If you are going to venture to Dusseldorf, you will find a number of places to enjoy Altbier. All are pretty much worthy a visit, but if you have to make a day of it, I suggest you try these places for the essential altbier experience.
I was thirsty for altbier, I was going to remedy that situation. When I visited Düsseldorf, I had one place in mind. It is a about a 15 minute walk from the train station to the Altstadt or "old town" but one that I just had to make. dat leckere droppke or "the delicious drop" is the slogan for a very special German beer, a beer that I have longed to taste again, since my very first taste, about seven years ago. It is a beer that American beer geeks, have waited a very long time to get a taste of here in the United States. I’m happy to say this legendary beer has been available in the US since 2004, and I have been happy to enjoy it here in the US. That being said, nothing can compare to the experience of drinking this beer vom fass at the source. The beer I speak of is the legendary Zum Uerige Altbier.
So what makes this beer and this style so special? A lot really. Alt bier or "old beer" is a very local beer style, which is brewed in and around the city of Düsseldorf, Germany. What makes it special is the fact that it is an ale, not a lager, and "old beer" refers to the fact that the first beers brewed in Germany, were ales, not lagers. Lagers of course, now dominate German brewing, but there are areas of Germany that never took to them. The brewers in Düsseldorf were never persuaded to change to lagers, and we as beer lovers should all be grateful.
By style, alt is a delicious, copper colored, malty, hoppy beer, which is just so drinkable. Brewpubs and breweries in Düsseldorf specialize in this very local style, and take great pride in it. Zum Uerige is a brewpub located on a busy corner street in the heart of the Altstadt, and brews what has been called the bench mark example of alt bier. When I entered Zum Uerige for lunch and took a seat, I was over come with joy and great expectations. When one of the Kobes (pronounced kerbiss) or blue jacket, blue apron wearing waiters, came by my table rolling a wooden barrel of altbier past me, I knew I had finally arrived. I have had other German alt biers, and would try other outstanding examples on my trip to Düsseldorf, but this beer is without question, still my personal favorite.
Uerige Altbier pours to a beautiful, bright, copper color, with a bright white head that clings to the glass, and a soft to moderate amount of carbonation. The nose on this beer is fantastic, with vibrant herbal/grassy hop aroma, paired with subtle hints of nutty malt. The palate on this beer is soft and malty, with incredible clean and nutty malt flavors. As the sea of clean malt flavor ends, this beer finishes with a vibrant burst of grassy/herbal hop bitterness that lingers on the tongue.
At the brewpub this beer is served by gravity from a wooden barrel. The Kobes circle the rooms with metal trays full of 0.25L short glasses of freshly poured altbier, and will continue to replace your empty glass until you tell them to stop. They mark you coaster each time with a pencil, and when all was said and done with, my friend and I had consumed 11 glasses of altbier (I had 8, he had 3). Uerige Alt is an amazingly drinkable beer that you just can’t get enough of. It is so flavorful, clean, smooth and drinkable. The aromas and flavors vom fass at the brewery are just so fresh and flavorful, you really have to come to Düsseldorf to experience the magic of this beer. In the meantime, I am happy to say it is available in 11.2 oz brown swing top bottles, which retail for about $4 a bottle. It can even be found on draught, in select markets at good beer bars across the US. The price for this beer seems a little inflated, but for a classic like this, I say well worth it. Uerige Alt is a very food friendly beer, and would be the perfect match for grilled bratwurst or roasted pork. I enjoyed glass after glass of this beer with some delicious potato soup, a mettwurst, and liverwurst with bread and butter. For more information about this beer, and its big brother, the rare, Uerige Sticke visit their site at: www.uerige.de or its US importer at:www.bunitedint.com/Products/uerige.htm
Zum Uerige is the place to start an altbier tour of Düsseldorf, but it is but the grand tip of the ice berg. With in walking distance of each other, you will find about nine different places that specialize in serving altbier, and one of my favorites was Brauerei Im Fuchschen which was founded in 1848. "The Fox Den" is a very traditional brewery/brewpub with dark wood panels, pine top tables, and a cozy, inviting decor. Here on the menu you will find traditional, hearty German fare, and one delicious beer to wash it down. That beer is Fuchschen Altbier, and like with all altbiers found in the Altstadt, expect the Kobes, or waiter, to serve you glasses of this beer continuously until you tell him to stop. The beer flows freely at Im Fuchschen poured by gravity from a wooden barrel or vom fass.
Fuchschen Altbier pours to a beautiful, bright copper color with a bright white head, and a moderate amount of carbonation. The nose on this beer is fragrant with herbal/grassy hop aromas that lead into a sweet malty palate. A touch of estery fruit follows the initial malt sweetness, and then ends with a very vibrant grassy/herbal hop bite that slightly lingers.
Very fresh tasting and very drinkable, Fuchschen Altbier is the type of beer you will want to drink a lot of. What I love so much about altbier, is the contrast of malt and hop character in this beer style. It is almost as if you are getting two beers in one, as you get that initial malt/fruit character up front, which quickly gives way to the vibrant hop character. Fuchschen Altbier is another stellar example of this classic Düsseldorf style, and a good example of the range within this style. This beer has more sweet malt flavor than other alts I tried in Düsseldorf, and gives this beer its own signature.
While all these classic alts are similar they are very different as well. Give it a try and taste for yourself. You will have to come to Germany to do so, as Fuchschen altbier is not exported, at least not to the United States. But that is fine with me, as I can not think of a place I would rather drink this beer than poured fresh from the barrel. For more information about this beer and the brewery, visit their site at: www.fuechschen.de
The search for new and exciting altbiers continued. We as beer lovers are always on that unending search for the ultimate beer. My thirst for new and exciting beers appears to be one that will never be quenched. Beer is more than just a drink for me, it is a true passion, a love affair. One that has me on the hunt for the world’s best beers. We are lucky to have some of these beers come to us from far off places, while others are brewed right under our noses at our local breweries. More often than not though, to find those elusive beers, sometimes you just have to be willing to travel to the source. Beer travel is a big part of being a serious beer lover. The ease and convenience of going to a local beer store and picking up a few bottles could never satisfy one who has a burning desire for beer. There is nothing quite like tasting a beer at the source poured fresh at the brewery or brewpub. If and when you venture to Düsseldorf, you must visit Hausbrauerei Zum Schlüssel located in the Altstadt, and enjoy some glasses of Zum Schlüssel Altbier. Like all the altbiers poured at the various brewery/brewpubs this beer is poured by gravity from a wooden barrel. Zum Schlüssel Altbier was one of the most impressive I tasted on my trip to Düsseldorf, and rivals Zum Uerige, the bench mark example of altbier.
Zum Schlüssel Altbier pours to a beautiful, bright, deep copper color with a bright white head, and a moderate amount of carbonation. The nose on this beer is very inviting with herbal/grassy hop aromas. The leads into a palate of clean, smooth, light nutty malt flavors, which give way to tangy/estery fruit flavors. Schlüssel finishes with more clean malty and fruity flavors up front, and then ends with a snappy herbal hop bitterness that lingers.
Wow! This was such an enjoyable, delicious beer that was just packed with aromas and flavors of malt, hop, and fruit, and on such a fresh, clean, smooth body. I can not over state the freshness of this beer, and all the alts I tried. The character is just so amazingly bright and clean at its source, something you just don’t get in the bottled versions of these beers. I really enjoyed the nice contrast of malt and fruit character in this beer, and the fruitiness of Schlüssel distinguishes this beer from other examples of alt. Zum Uerige is still my personal favorite, but Zum Schlüssel was a very close second. This beer is not exported to the United States, so to try this one, you will need to venture to Düsseldorf. A journey anyone who truly loves beer will be more than willing to make. For more information about this beer and brewery, visit their site at:http://www.hausbrauerei-zum-schluessel.de/index_2.htm
My recent trip to Düsseldorf, Germany was a far too brief one. If time would have allowed, I would have spent a few more days exploring what the city had to offer. As a beer lover, Düsseldorf is a great starting point, and it really is amazing to see how the beer cultures in different states of Germany vary. It was very hearting for me to see that Düsseldorf has its own beer culture, and it is alive in well in the brewpub/breweries that serve the very local beer style altbier. I was not able to make it to all the places I wanted to go to, but I was very happy with the choices I made.
One of the most gratifying experiences for me was seeing the Kobes or the blue jacketed, blue apron wearing waiters in action. They wear those aprons and serve up trays of altbier with great pride. These guys are real pros, and real characters to boot. It was a very comical moment when my friend and I visited Im Goldenen Kessel the Altstadt outlet for Braurerei Ferdinand Schumacher which was established in 1838. My friend who isn’t a big beer drinker per say, just had enough altbier for the day. He actually had the nerve to order a coffee instead of an altbier. I could only understand a little bit of the exchange in German, but the look that the Kobes gave him, and then the laughter my friend and the waiter had was priceless.
While my friend who really doesn’t share my passion for beer could be excused for ordering a coffee, any beer lover would be crazy to pass on a glass of Schumacher Altbier. I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but this altbier, like all the other altbiers, is poured from gravity from a freshly tapped wooden barrel. And like the other altbiers I have tried, this beer is yet another stellar example of this style unique to Düsseldorf.
Schumacher Altbier pours to a beautiful, bright, deep copper color, with a bright white head and a moderate amount of carbonation. The nose on this beer has some herbal/grassy aroma, but I also get some nice toasty/nutty malt aroma as well. This leads into a very clean, smooth body with good nutty and toasty malt flavor paired with a hint of estery fruit. Schumacher Altbier finishes with more dry maltiness up front, and then ends with a pleasing herbal hop bite that lingers.
Drinking the classic altbiers of Düsseldorf really taught me some valuable lessons. It showed me the subtle differences in a beer style, and range within a beer style. All these altbiers are similar, yet they all have their own unique character that makes them their own beers. Schumacher had a pleasing "dry" malt character that made it different from other alts I tried, and it was a very delicious, drinkable, beer, a perfect one to wrap up a day of drinking in the classic alt houses of Düsseldorf. I really enjoyed this one, and only wish I could have stayed longer and enjoyed more. Schumacher is a must visit for anyone coming to Düsseldorf. For more information about this beer and the brewery, visit their website at:www.schumacher-alt.de/. What a fun website! You have to hear the song!!
If you love beer, then you will want to try altbier at its source. A day trip, or a few days in Düsseldorf to try the local beer style altbier, is an experienced that should not be missed. A unique German beer style, a unique beer culture, the memories will last you a life time, and will give you just one more reason to love beer even more/
One side note to those who travel to the Altstadt for a day of drinking altbier; bring plenty of change. The bathrooms that you will need to use are spotless. Clean and fresh, but with that service comes a price. 99% of these places will have an attendant who keeps the WC clean, and you should leave at least 50 Cents (Euro) every time you go. I didn’t have any 50 cents at the time, so I was forced to leave 1 Euro coin every time I went! I joked to my friend the altbier was costing me more going out that it was coming in!