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.)