Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner but it’s most probably to do with my love of quality products, especially around the theme of alcoholic drinks. As lovely as Pilsenser and Lager are, I’m rarely satisfied with the body, complication and bite of such beers. A bit of a shame living in Germany where the consumption of beer has three simple rules: yellow, cold and fizzy.
After a few years of working in a fantastic little pub in Leigh-On-Sea whereby and at all times no less than four excellently-kept, cask-conditioned ales were served, I sometimes was even allowed to handle the ale myself on a rare basis: selecting, tapping, racking and the changing of barrels and cleaning of lines (something I loved by the way). This gained me a found understanding of the world of British Ale and the art of brewing that, at the time, was on the downturn. Never again did I order a Carlsberg in a pub when drinking away, never again was a bottle of overpriced Irish cider in front of my nose on a sticky pub table – I was a converted ale drinker and still am.
This hobby was then allowed to continue after my move to Germany in 2007 whereby I managed to find a real British pub in Münster to work in (where I stayed for four years). Although German law prohibits the sale of cask-conditioned ale (don’t know why), we did have a range of fantastic (albeit pasteurised) beers on top and, in the many fridges dotted about the pub, we had no less than 20 British ales in bottles – my hobby and love of drinking new beer was allowed to continue – what’s more is that the pub also sold a range of fantastic Bavarian and Belgian beers and, with my staff discount and my boss’s keenness for me to try what it was that I was selling, I was left satisfied in my perseverance to discover new British beer on a regular basis.
However, I’ve since moved to Essen and this town is right in the middle of boring-beer Germany where Pils in on the menu in every bar and restaurant. Again, I’d like you to know that I do like Pils, I just don’t find it half as rewarding as the darker, more complicated beers.
If you’ve ever lived in Germany, I know what you’re thinking – why don’t you drink Weizenbier? There are a few simple answers to that: a) Weizenbier isn’t that much more interesting and b) (the main reason) it has a bit too much alcohol in it for me – a few pints at 5.5% and I’m dancing and singing way before I should be.
So what is the solution? A regular weekend spent in the company of Easyjet popping over the North Sea for a pint of real beer? The non-financeable shipping of beer from England to the Ruhrpott? No, I’ve found a much better one than that: Düsseldorf.
Situated thirty minutes from my fridge is the sprawling Metropolis of Düsseldorf: the capital city of the state I happen to find myself in. With its Rhineland lifestyle, its love of beer and hatred of Cologne the inhabitants produce some of Germany’s best beer – especially the kind that I want to be sipping on: Alt.
If you’ve ever had Alt in another town that isn’t Düsseldorf or out of the bottle, you probably don’t know what I’m talking about. Even the Germans don’t adapt to Alt, they prefer the much sweeter, much less-interesting Kölsch from, well, Cologne with its pointlessly small glasses and uselessly boring taste.
In Düsseldorf however, Alt is served straight out of the (wooden) barrel into glasses, no carbon dioxide required to tap it, not put in the fridge whilst being tapped and served uncomplicatedly into small glasses which are regularly replaced and added to you bill without you having to order another one.
With its roasted taste, fruity aromas and an almost bitter, clean-cut finish, Alt is the perfect beer for someone looking for something a bit like London Ale, Pale Ale or the milder IPAs. It has a dark colour similar that that of premium ale (think Young’s Special, Bombardier etc) and, although most of the pubs selling the stuff also sell Pils, they’ll look at you in a funny way if you dare to order it - quite correct I believe.
The pubs in which it can purchased are also part of the attraction. The beer is usually brewed there too and most of them are situated in the Altstadt. With grumpy, middle-aged and male service you don’t get the choice whether you want a new beer or not (unless you know of the secret ways) and you’ll find a new one right next to that last slowly-warming sip of the last one in the bottom of the glass without so much as looking up – don’t argue, you won’t win!
Uerige is one of the largest of the bars (although also one of the most overrun with tourists). Nevertheless it serves as a brilliant base for your first few (and it will be a few) Altbiers. I then suggest wandering in the direction of the shopping district and visiting Schlüssel and then crossing the pedestrian road to check out Schumacher’s offering at the Goldener Kessel. Once done, its time to eat something – make your way to Füchschen on the outskirts of the Altstadt for a bite of food and a whole lot more Altbier.
Some of the pubs even sell their beers in litre bottles to take with you – highly recommended! There are other ares of Germany though that also produce darker beers – the Bavarians are famous for it and there are a few brewers of Porter in the east. One brewery in Dortmund also brews Bitter – Hövels.
So, the little Englander inside of me is satisfied for the moment and I’m glad I’ve rediscovered Düsseldorf – a fantastic city with an excellent beer-brewing culture. Would kill for a pint of St. Austell’s Tribute though…