Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Germany trip recap part III: Düsseldorf and Köln

So, before I write about the last leg of our trip, a quick disclaimer: unlike the first two posts recapping our trip to Germany, this one is being written three weeks after the fact. It's funny how returning back to work gets in the way of recreational activities like blogging. That being said, here's my recap of Düsseldorf and Köln (a.k.a. Cologne).

After an extremely early train ride (courtesy of the Deutsch Bahn strike), we arrived in Köln early Thursday afternoon. We checked into our room and grabbed a Brat on the street, and next thing we knew we were on our way to Düsseldorf's Brauerei Schumacher. (For those of you unfamiliar with German geography, Düsseldorf is a mere 30-minute train ride from Köln.) It was important to arrive at Brauerei Schumacher--one of Düsseldorf's four traditional Altbier brewpubs--because they would be serving their Latzenbier. Literally translated as "slat-beer" because the casks are stored on slats in their cellar, it's a stronger version of their Altbier that's only served three times a year. Two things that will give you an idea of how popular the Latzenbier is: first, I saw several people walking out of the brewery with crates full of 1-liter swingtop bottles, and this was at 3pm; second, a local told me that the pub was devoid of its usual flowered decor because it would likely get destroyed by the end of the night. Given the fact that we were traveling with a fifteen-month-old, I guess it's good we got there early.

For those of you who don't know me, my favorite beer in the world is Uerige's Sticke Altbier, and Schumacher's Latzenbier is their version of the Sticke. My first homebrew to win a First Place ribbon was a Sticke that the judge compared favorably to Schumacher's Latzenbier (stating it was less bitter than Uerige's Sticke). Needless to say, I was very excited to try it. As is true of all the traditional Düsseldorf pubs, your beer is served in a .25 L Becher ("beaker"), and the waiter keeps track of how many you drink by marking your coaster with a dash. The Latzenbier arrived looking much like a regular Altbier: it was an amber-copper color with a rocky white head. It was much lighter than the Uerige Sticke (my only point of comparison). That was my first clue that the Latzenbier was really a different creature than a Sticke. Indeed, the Latzenbier really tasted like a stronger version of an Altbier, while Uerige's Sticke is more complex with more roasted notes. Further, I found the Latzenbier to be more delicate, with lots of fruity esters and a crisp hop finish, while the malts play a stronger role in the Uerige Sticke. Overall, I am grateful to have had the chance to try the Latzenbier fresh on tap, but I much prefer Uerige's Sticke. Oh, I should also note that the original Schumacher brewpub (which is just outside the Altstadt) is a very cool place, even if it didn't have its usual flowers, etc. It's a large beer hall with wooden beams everywhere; it's gotta be really sweet in the summer when the Biergarten is open.

After leaving Schumacher, we decided to head over to Uerige (which was featuring their regular Altbier, not the Sticke). I had tried their regular Altbier once in the States, but generally you only find their Sticke or Doppelsticke. We knew we had come to the Uerige pub when we found a giant pile of spent grains dumped in the middle of the street (see the accompanying picture). Of course, I had to try the grain, and I decided they get way more efficiency than I do, as it had virtually no sweetness to it at all. The pub itself was super crowded, so we drank at a table outside. The Düsseldorf pubs are so dependent on outside patrons that they have giant heaters to comfort their outdoor customers. It was crazy to be drinking outside in 30° F weather.

To my surprise, I didn't really care for their Altbier much. It's known as the most bitter Altbier in Düsseldorf, and it was much more bitter on tap than I remember from their bottled, imported variety (which makes sense, since hops tend to mellow with age). It didn't have quite the grapefruity bite that a hoppy American IPA has, but it was sort of a cross between grapefruit and apricot. Overall, it was just too assertive for me. Given my reverence for Uerige, I was taken aback, but I've never been a hophead so I suppose it's a matter of personal preference. I heard from a reliable source that they will soon be exporting their Altbier in kegs to the U.S., and I'll be curious to try it again at that time and see how bitter it is. One other interesting note... I had heard from various sources that White Labs' American Hefeweizen yeast is the yeast used by Widmer to brew their Hefe, which in turn was taken from Uerige. I know Widmer's Hefe doesn't have the characteristic banana and clove notes that German Hefes do, but it always seemed weird to me that it could be used in an Altbier. However, after tasting the fruity esters found in Uerige's Alt (and in the other Düsseldorf Alts as well), I think it makes sense and I'm planning on using it for my next Alt.

The next day we enjoyed Köln and its local beverage of choice: Kölsch. Like Altbier, Köln's light-colored ale is served in small glasses (in this case a .2 L Stange). We had lunch at Ausschank Pfaffen Brauerei, which has a wonderful Kölsch. It's light and clean, slightly floral, with just a hint of graininess. Personally, I think it's the ultimate gateway beer for Bud-Miller-Coors drinkers. It's light enough for them to enjoy, but even the most hardcore beer geek can appreciate the balance and detail in this brew. At Pfaffen, we also discovered another local delicacy: Goulaschsuppe, or goulash soup. It's a meaty, tomato-based soup that's almost as hearty as a stew or chili but has a unique spice to it (heavy on the paprika, naturally). It's served with a Brötchen roll on the side, and when we dipped a piece of the roll into the soup and handed it to Dorrie, she proceeded to suck the soup off of it and hand it back to us to dip again. Wonderful stuff. I also enjoyed my entree very much, though three weeks later I can't recall exactly what it was. That night we grabbed Döners for dinner and I washed it down with a nice Königsbacher Dunkel Kellerbier. I also decided to try a Malzbier (essentially unfermented beer, sickly sweet, that's marketed as a cross between a pop and an energy drink). Let's just say the Malzbier was an interesting experience, but not one I'd like to try again.

On Saturday, we headed back to Düsseldorf to try the other Altstadt Altbiers. First on our list was Brauerei Im Füchschen. All I can say is wow. This was by far my favorite Altbier. It seemed slightly maltier and "brighter" than Uerige. It had the typical Altbier bitterness, but it more well balanced and lacked the apricot/grapefruit bite. This was a beer I could drink all day, every day. On a side note, we tried a Mainz cheese to go along with our beer. The waiter warned us it was stinky, which I interpreted as something along the lines of a strong Parmesan. Um, no. It smelled, and tasted, like a barn. It was actually too much for me, though Leah said it was better with caraway seeds (which I hate and scraped off my half of the cheese). Crazy stuff, and I'm glad I tried it for the experience, but next time I'll pass.

After Im Füchschen, we stopped by Schumacher's Altstadt pub to try their regular Altbier. I found it to be somewhere in between Uerige and Im Füchschen: not as malty as Im Füchschen, but not as bitter as Uerige. Our final stop was Brauerei Schlüssel. I found Schlüssel to be the nuttiest and driest of the Alts. Excellent, but I like my Alts a little maltier. We also had another Goulaschsuppe at Schlüssel. Damn, that's good stuff. I'm sad to say that Schlüssel would be the last Alt consumed from the tap in Germany. I have a few bottles I brought back with me, but I have a feeling it won't be the same.

Upon returning to Köln for our last German dinner, we ate at Weinhaus Vogel, where I had good potato pancakes and awesome Jäger Schnitzel. I enjoyed a Gaffel Kölsch with my dinner and then noticed something on the menu called "Hopfenblut" (literally "hop blood"). Of course I had to try it. I suppose I would describe it as a Dunkel version of Kölsch, to the extent that it was darker in color and had the same light fruitiness I associate with Kölsch. Despite its color, it didn't really have any roasted or toasted notes to it, but rather a slight caramel sweetness. It was also unusually under-hopped, especially for something with "hopf" in its name. Nonetheless, in a city where most bars and restaurants only serve one type of beer, it was an interesting change of pace and worth seeking out for anybody in Köln (the restaurant is a 10-minute walk from the Hauptbahnhof).

The next morning it was off to the airport, and "auf wiedersehen" to Germany. Here's hoping we return soon! Prost!

Jump to Part IV: Concluding Thoughts.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Lovibond said...

The Paeffgen you visited is not the famous one, and does not serve Koelsch. The real one, which does serve Koelsch, is near Friesenplatz, though there is an Altstadt Ausschank (ca 100 m from the Orange Haus). Go to either location for the best Koelsch in the world.

4:13 PM, November 16, 2008  
Blogger Barm said...

The beer served at the Pfaffenbrauerei Max Päffgen looks like Kölsch and tastes like Kölsch. It is brewed in Lohmar which is approximately the same distance from Cologne as Monheim, where Peters Kölsch has been brewed for decades. Readers may decide for themselves how much difference this makes.

I prefer to judge a beer on its taste rather than how famous the brewery is or whether it can claim a protected geographical designation.

5:02 PM, May 10, 2009  
Blogger Eric said...

Our mutual Lubbockian friend heard I was visiting Köln and sent me to your post, so I went to the Pfaffenbauerei today - had the Braumeister Schnitzel (it's topped with egg and a few cm of bacon). Both the food and beer were good, so thanks for the recommendation on a spot.

2:20 PM, May 30, 2009  

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