A tip-top hopped-up Düsseldorf experience
It is the year of beer in Germany, in recognition of the 500th anniversary of the Rheinheitsgebot, the beer purity law. So to celebrate the occasion I’ve just been on a beer tasting in Düsseldorf.
It happens that this city, despite being massively damaged in World War II, still has no fewer than five traditional brewery pubs (ie where beer is actually brewed on the premises). They are within walking distance of each other in the Old Town, the highest density of brewpubs anywhere in Europe. And the Düsseldorf beer is not the straw-coloured pilsner typical of most of Germany, but a much darker and delicious ale rather like British bitter.
We started in Kürzer, an unassuming place popular with a younger, trendy crowd. The beer tasted nutty and ultra fresh, piped from the tanks at the back direct into the taps at the front.
From there we moved onto Füchschen – the ‘Little Fox’ – a much larger and older place, dating back to 1848, with most of its customers standing, or leaning on chest-high tables. This, apparently, is part of the etiquette: if you are a solo drinker, or friends open to general conversation with others, then you stand in this area, aptly known as the Schwemme, or ‘floodplains’. If you want to keep to yourselves, you go to a table at the back.
Next was Schumacher, also large and old, but more elegant and restrained – apparently because it is run by women. Here I learned about key personnel: the Baas, who is the chief brewer, and the Köbes, the waiters, who are the high priests of beer. The latter will keep filling your glass, recording each refill with a tick on your coaster, until such time as you place that coaster on top of your glass indicating you’ve had enough.
By the time we get to Zum Schlüssel, number four on our list, and a big place with a thousand seats, I was getting hungry. There’s not a lot of choice (drinks are either beer, water or apple juice) so I wasn’t expecting much variety on the menu. Flönz im Bierteig – black pudding in batter – didn’t sound very healthy, but it went down well.
The last port of call was Ueriger, another big one, and the third biggest brewpub in Germany. The beer here was incredibly bitter, but after the first sip or two you no longer notice it. And the trays of Frikadellen (homemade meatballs) with mustard that did the rounds of the various rooms really helped the medicine go down.
You can visit all five brewpubs on a two-hour guided tour with Altbier Safari, for €24.50, a price that includes a 0.2l glass of beer in each.
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