06 January 2010

We have ways of making you pork

Schweinhaxe, bratwurst, leberwurst, currywurst, blutwurst, weisswurst, schnitzel: a week in western Germany certainly gives one an insight into the many ways man has devised for cutting up and serving the humble pig. I think I've had my fill of swine for the next while. Obviously, it all has to be washed down with the lovely local lager, but in Düsseldorf and Cologne you can basically forget about hearty Teutonic mugs of foaming beer. It's a cause for celebration to find somewhere serving measures as large as 33cl.

25cl is how alt is served in Düsseldorf. Four breweries still operate in the city, each running a pub on site. The first we encountered was Schumacher, a little bit out from the old city, near where we were staying. Schumacher Alt impressed from the get-go: a lovely warm caramel flavour with little aftertaste but finishing in a tasty bitter bite. Accompanied by a bratwurst swimming in gravy, I was off to a good start. Each of the four establishments offers an alternative beer alongside their alt from a wooden cask, and in Schumacher, with a bit of cheeky wordplay, it's Jong -- marketed as a lighter option at just over 3% ABV. I wasn't so keen on this. It starts out sweet, but instead of the Alt's hoppy kick it delivers an unpleasant bitter metallic afterburn.

Heading into town, the Schlüssel brewery is the only one of the four where the alt-ternative isn't another beer: the menu merely offers "half and half" and I had no intention of finding out what sort of sticky unpalateable horror this was. Those Germans will mix anything with their beer: that's what centuries of recipe purity will do to you. Original Schlüssel is the alt, an inoffensive concoction with a hint of fruity complexity and only a smidge of dry crunchy grain.

The third brewery is Füchschen, selling another less-than-impressive Alt. It's quite crisp, with a hint of coffee in the dryness, but also an unpleasant musty character which slightly spoiled the whole experience for me. The other option is a weissbier called Silberfüchschen, demonstrating more fondness for wordplay, though a poor grasp of the colour chart. A definite pale yellow, it exhibits very little by way of weissbier esters, just a tiny hint of banana amidst a rather dry crispness. For some odd reason the two glasses of it we ordered arrived looking very different: one properly hefe cloudy, the other almost kristall clear. No idea what's going on there.

And then there's Zum Uerige. You can smell Uerige long before you see it, and inside the rambling corner premises the aroma of hot hops is even more intense. Unsurprisingly, Uerige Alt is hoppier-than-thou, showing off super-fresh and flavoursome spicy German hop flavours. This is infused through a body darker than the other alts and make for a beer which is insanely moreish, one which showcases the inadequacy of 25cl glasses. Uerige Weizen is soft and very dry. I'd swear they haven't even bothered with a weissbier yeast, so little by way of fruit flavour is present here.

Of course there are plenty of other industrial alts made outside the four inner city micros. Chemical-tinged Frankenheim was the best of a bad lot elsewhere, while ubiquitous Diebels is very pale and rather bland with just a slight hint of lavender to say for itself. Gatz Alt is another light brown one. It's not quite as bland as Diebels, nor as sharp as Frankenheim, but contains elements of both. Finally, Schlösser Alt began in promising fashion with some nice fruit character at the front. However it ends abruptly with a hollow mineral-water dryness.

One full day of wandering and sampling was enough for Düsseldorf, and we headed off early on the second morning for Cologne. Yellow beer, even smaller glasses, and yet more pork. What were we thinking?

(The title of this post comes courtesy of Barry. Our adventures in Münsterland will follow anon.)

19 comments:

  1. Love the title! I mainly go for pork products the morning after a night on the beer.

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  2. Good to see you used the book.

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  3. It's been so long since I was in Düsseldorf, I really should get there for a Saturday of drinking...

    I quite liked the Füchschen when I had it last, but the Uerige definitely takes pole position for me. You can get 15 litre mini-casks of it to order, something that I will certainly do later this year.

    Oink!

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  4. 15L sounds like a much more sensible measure than 25cl when it comes to Uerige Alt.

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  5. I don't understand your aversion to smaller measures. If it's not enough beer, order another one!

    I will always have a greater fondness for Schlösser Alt than the beer actually deserves. When I was 17 and working in Germany I had a choice between Herforder Pils and Paderborner Pilsener in most places, so Schlösser, when I could get it, represented a nice change of pace.

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  6. Only in one place I went (which I'll get to tomorrow) was the service attentive enough to drink nice beer at the pace I wanted. Self-service wooden casks: that's what they need.

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  7. Could you not order two at one time?

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  8. I was peeking at the Uerige site a little earlier (after a comment from Tandleman on another blog) and realised that the Uerige Sticke day is later this month. I'm very tempted to take the day off work and toddle over there.

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  9. We liked Schumacher, Schluessel, Uerige and Fuechschen! Uerige's the place I most want to go back to, though.

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  10. @Alan What's German for "...and an empty pint glass please"?

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  11. ...und bitte ein leeres Pintglas, du Arschloch.

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  12. Excellent, I'm hoping to brew an alt soon and was wondering what they should actually taste like. So now I know.

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  13. The Porterhouse one is pretty much on the money. Take that, then whack in a load of hallertau aroma.

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  14. Love the post! From my time around the Rhein I also found the smaller bier glasses to be lacking. I completely agree that the Schumacher is a good altbier. Others that I tried weren't up to the standard set by the Schumacher.

    On a side note, a mate of mine from Köln once told me that the local joke about the taste difference between Kölsch and Altbier is that Düsseldorf is 'down' river from Köln, thus altbier is made with the...ahh... Köln excrement.

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  15. You gotta love that dry and subtle German sense of humour.

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  16. So who's pissing into the Rhine before it gets to Köln?

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  17. There's another rather dry and subtle one which goes by Düsseldorfers calling kölsch "baby's piss" and Kölners retorting that at least their babies are healthy...

    But you've got to put that back in the context of an age-old rivalry between the two cities. Think Liverpool vs. Manchester, or Newcastle vs. Sunderland... there's nobody you love to hate so much as your neighbour, it seems !

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  18. Chalda6:53 p.m.

    Great to read that you enjoyed your stay in my hometown of Duesseldorf. Uerige indeed is a very fine brew and extremely quaffable. What makes a visit to the Uerige Hausbrauerei so enjoyable is that it is deeply linked in the conception and history of Duesseldorf but today is as lively and crowded as ever. Local supermarkets and drink shops are supplied with Uerige in bottles, with the date of the brew printed on the label and a use-by date of one month. So you can always have a glass of super-fresh Uerige at home - actually I do at the moment. Keep up the good work! Christian

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