Monday, September 12, 2011

Part 7: Düsseldorf

I was going to write about Düsseldorf and Köln in one post, but there's so much to say about each of them, that I've decided to split them into two separate posts. Düsseldorf is home to Altbier, a German ale that's typically known to be fairly nutty & moderately bitter. Our time in the city of Alt, though, proved to us that Altbier is a widely-variable German ale that ranges from nutty & bitter to moderately malty-sweet & floral. If you think about the amount of variation in American Pale Ales, or even IPAs, you get a comparable amount of variation in German Altbier.

Cask at Schumacher
One of the images I remember most from this trip are the casks in various bars. Bamberg's breweries used them, as did those in Düsseldorf (and Köln, which is up next). Some people have this bizarre notion that German beer is served warm; I suspect that comes from the fact that it's not served at "Coldest Beer in Town!" temperatures. Despite that, it's still served plenty cold, but more like cellar temperatures (low 50s). Perfect for being able to smell and taste your beer.

There are several Altbier breweries in Düsseldorf , and we did our best to check out the most notable. Here's a run-down of where we went & what we thought:

Brauerei Schumacher
Very clear, light brown/amber in color. The aroma was sweet, nutty, toasted malt with a bit of doughiness and a floral hop aroma toward the end. The flavor was prominently toasted nuts and bread, with a bit of a floral hop flavor but lingering bitterness in the finish. I was really surprised at how bitter this beer was; it was one of the bitterest beers I'd had on the trip, but the malt character balanced it out some. Even still, this was - surprisingly so - quite a bitter beer.

Zum Schwartze Maus
We walked about 4 miles from Schumacher to Schalander, only to find out that Schalander was closed. So, we found this place across the street that served a couple of different alts. I tried the Frankenheim Alt which, as you can probably tell from their website, is a bit... commercial. It was pretty sweet and presented brown sugar & caramel right away. It almost had a sweet "Ricola" type of malt character that gave way to a toasted almond presence. The hop bitterness was subdued and certainly not in balance with the malt. I wasn't impressed.

Hausbrauerei zum Schlüssel
After a convoluted tram ride from the black mouse pub, we stopped in zum Schlüssel to rest our feet and revive. As you can see in the picture, alt is served in the little cylindrical glasses; they're all about .2 or .25cl. I love this, because I so often want smaller servings of beer, just so that I can taste different beers. But when the place offers one beer, it's kind of an annoyance... but anyway...

This one ended up being one of my favorites. It was very nutty, likely from the Munich malt, and quite bitter - but not as bitter as the alt at Schumacher. It had some spicy hop notes at the finish, adding to the complexity. I really enjoyed this beer; it had a fantastic balance of malt sweetness & toast, hop aroma & flavor, and bitterness in the finish. I'd love to have this available in the US.

In the picture, you can also see the small gray crock in the background. Every single bar & restaurant in Düsseldorf we went to had these on the table. One would hold flatware, another held mustard. I should have bought some of my own. You can't have enough mustard.

Zum Uerige
This place was insane. You probably recognize the name, and it was largely a tourist attraction. However, it was clear they work hard not to turn it into the ridiculousness in places like U Fleků. And, as it turns, out, they had my favorite Altbier of all the alts we tried.  The malt character was a bit more complex than the others we had. While it definitely had the toasty Munich malt notes, it must have also had a decent amount of crystal malt in it, lending a bit of caramelly sweetness. You got that initially, but each sip ended with a spicy - and slightly funky - hop flavor with moderately high bitterness.
They keep track of how much you drink by marking your coaster.
Is this because the glasses are so bitsy?

We're coming up to Sticke release time (every October & January), so we should start seeing fresh bottles on shelves of our liquor stores here in KC in the coming months. I'm quite curious about their distilled Stickum (moreso, Stickum PLUS), but haven't seen it here... if you have, let me know where you spotted it.

Funny story about this place; their servers are notorious for being a bit impish. I went to the restroom during our visit, and on the way back to our table, our server fake-punched me in the stomach. German flirting at its finest? Not sure, but it did make me laugh just because it was so off-the-wall. Wacky Germans...

Im Füchschen
This place was a short walk from Zum Uerige, so we stopped in for a small beer (remember, these are 20cl pours of 4.5% ABV beer, which is slightly weaker than 6oz of Boulevard Wheat at a time). Their beer was super-nutty with a scant amount of floral hops. There wasn't much bitterness in the finish at all, which made it very drinkable but also relatively uninteresting. We had one beer and left, but not before noticing that their food menu featured steak from Nebraska.

Overall, here is how I rated the alts we tried, from best to ... not best:
1) Zum Uerige
2) Hausbrauerei zum Schlüssel
3) Schumacher
4) Im Füchschen
5) Frankenheim

It's a good thing, then, that we can get what I thought was the best one here in KC. Granted, it's almost impossible to find the original altbier, but the Sticke is fairly available, and we do get it seasonally.

I told you I had a lot to say. :)


  1. Great post.

    I can't get over that gorgeous pic from Hausbrauerei zum Schlüssel. The light and shadow and focus is absolutely perfect.

    I would love to get my hands on a German Sticke. I had no idea it was available in KC and would never have thought to look for it until now. Thanks!

  2. Thanks! I had a lot of fun with my camera on this trip; I tried to avoid using my flash at every turn, so I had to play around with different shutter, aperture, and ISO settings to get things 'just right' ... didn't always succeed, but it was a good educational experience.

    You can also get Sticke alt at Lukas out in Martin City. I forgot about that.


Tasting Notes