Tim Hampson's Beer Blog

The quest for the perfect beer

Old if might be, but that doesn’t stop Dusseldorf’s alt beer from being served fresh

with one comment

 

Alt beers are poured fresh and fast from wooden barrels

 

The beer world is getting smaller – today we can drink an American IPA brewed in Yorkshire, a pilsner produced in the Cotswolds and English bitter made in northern Italy.

However, there is something special about finding a beer which is enjoyed by people of all ages in its home town. The best bars are like good friends – be it the first time you have met them or a reunion after many years – the mood is comfortable and relaxed, but coupled with a frisson of excitement.

The German town of Dusseldorf in Germany is renowned for its dark Alt beers.  One translation of the alt might mean “old”,and it is said these beers are so-called because they predate the “newer”  pilsner which in many parts of the world have seemingly swept all before it. However, more likely is that the word has a Latin root and it would be better translated as “high”, denoting that the beer is top fermented, with a yeast head forming on top of the fermenting beer

 

Alt beers are topped by a fresh white head

 

A Dusseldorfer alt is served fresh and fast from a wooden cask. Brown in colour, with a large white foaming head, they have a refreshing bitter sweetness –not as bitter as English ale – they have the full maltiness one comes to expect from a German beer.

The beer is a great soul mate to plates of local sausages or even a hearty Rhineland variation of a steak tartar, which is served with raw onions on a crispy roll. Vegetarians do not fare well in Dusseldorf.

Within the bustling streets of the Altstade – or old town to you and me – there are a trio of three brew pubs – Füchschen (Ratinger Str. 32), Zum Schlüssel, (Bolkerstraße 41-47) and Uerige (Berger Straße 1) –whose beers can be found in other pubs too, along with beers from Schumacher (Oststraße 123) which is just outside the old area.

 

The food is hearty and robust

 

Inside these glorious, coliseums to the art of craft brewing, the beer is mashed like an English ale and then top fermented in open vessels. Here ale and lager production meld into one as the beer is then fermented and conditioned or 15/16 days before being decanted into the wooden barrels and lagered for up to four weeks at a temperature close to zero centigrade.  The beer is served straight from the wooden casks.

The waiters’ prowl through these bars, with rapt concentration watching those they are serving. Empty glasses are soon filled, a pen puts a mark on a beer mat recording accurately how many you have had. It is a curious process, but one which becomes clear, when you realise the waiters, often known as kobes, are self employed, they buy the beer from the bar and sell it on to customers.

There is always something special about sitting in bars, where in the shadows there are generations of drinkers who have come before – all who have indulged in the same simple pleasures of conversation, friendship and good beer. And that is the glory of the old town bars.

But how should an Englishman abroad finish off the evening? Locals point me towards a bar selling Killepitsch, a herbal liquor with 42% alcohol content, it is a digestif made of 98 different essences, herbs, berries and fruits. Better than a dessert, the Schnapps based drink, is said to settle nerves and prevent indigestion.

 

It might not be a beer but a glass of Killepitsch, served through a hatch and drunk from a plastic glass is a perfect end to a wonderful evening

 

And if it is late and the Killepitsch bar is closing, lucky drinkers can be served a through a hatch in the window and just “tip it back” from a small plastic glass before heading back to their hotel.

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Written by timhampson

October 6, 2010 at 6:43 pm

One Response

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  1. I have often felt that the Altstrade’s quartet of Alt brewpubs is one of the best drinking experiences in Europe, especially Zum Uerige, did you raise a cheer for Kolsch while there? I thought not.

    ATJ

    October 6, 2010 at 8:18 pm


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