As we told you in our post about brewing our Kölsch 2017, last November we were able to spend a few days in Cologne, and also to visit the nearby Dusseldorf. As every good beer aficionado will know these two cities are the cradle of two peculiar beer styles, Kölsch and Altbier, respectively. To make it easier, and also because we don’t want to choose one side in the regional rivalry about beer between these two cities, we are going to divide our trip in two parts. First one will be about Kölschs from Cologne and the second one will be about Dusseldorf and Atlbiers.
First, and as a non-beer introduction, a few tourist tips about the city. It is clear that its majestic cathedral is the center of everything with its tourist magnetism. It can be seen from a lot of places around the city and it impresses with its enormous size. Apart from its outward appearance, its interior deserves to be visited with tranquility. You can also climb the stairs to one of its towers for spectacular views of the city. Apart from the cathedral, Cologne is, at least the most touristic area, a good city for walking. It is a pleasure to walk around its Altstadt or along the banks of the Rhine river. It is also interesting to leave the city center and explore further areas while visiting the old doors of the city. A friendly city, totally recommended for a short trip.
Time for the beer, Kölsch in this case, that of course is another attraction to visit Cologne. After arrival, once you start wandering the streets, you notice that beer culture in this city is big. There are logos from the different Kölsch breweries everywhere. And when you step into any of the huge brewery pubs owned but the breweries all of this is confirmed. Almost any time of the day there is a great atmosphere in these places, being especially lively at lunch and dinner time. People of all ages sitting around tables having a good time, from teenagers groups to entire families, grandparents and grandchildren included. And everybody in a perfect (but noisy) harmony, without any trouble in spite of the liters of beer consumed.
As we told you in our post about brewing a Kölsch, this beer is served in 20 cL glasses known as Stangen. These recipients showcase the clarity of the beer and help sustain the characteristic white head of Kölsch. Kölsch is usually dispensed from wooden casks and you don’t really need to order one, unless you want to order something different from beer. Servers (known as kobes) go from one site of the pub to another with a special tray full of glasses with beer replacing empty glasses from the tables. To keep track of the beers consumed, servers mark a coaster with a slash for every glass they serve. If you don’t want to drink anymore, tradition tells that you should put your coaster atop the glass. At the end, based on the slashes on the coaster, you pay the corresponding price. If you feel hungry, you can also taste the German gastronomy in these pubs. Beer prices are similar among the different brewery pubs and, if I remember correctly, a glass is about 1.70-1.80€.
For the last part of the post, I’ll make a description about the different beers we tasted and how I felt about them. I’ll also describe the brewery pubs, at least what I remember about them. I’ve organized the beers from the ones I enjoyed most to the ones I enjoyed less, but it’s only a matter of personal taste, nothing to do with their quality.
Kölsch from Malzmühle was the one I enjoyed most. The brewery pub, situated a little bit off from the city center, is a cozy place, smaller than the rest of the brewhouses we visited. It is one of the few to have the brewery on site. With a traditional decoration, we didn’t eat here, but we loved the beer. It is the maltiest Kölsch among the ones we drank, very tasty and with a final hop touch that makes it perfect. As every other Kölsch, it is a very clean and dry beer.
Päffgen was established in 1883, and their brewery pub is also away from the city centre, but the walk is worth it. Unlike Malzmühle, it is distributed in big and long halls. We had lunch here, including one of their famous specialties, a 75 cm sausage, excellent to recover some strength while drinking their Kölsch, a truly delight. In this case, hops are the ones which shine, in aroma as well as in flavor. It is a very well balance beer, probably the easiest to drink. Here you realize the importance of drinking this style of beer fresh and why it is almost impossible to drink a great Kölsch outside Cologne.
Peters is maybe one of the most beautiful pubs in Cologne. Similar to Malzmühle, although in this case beer is brewed off-premises. It is a very cozy and welcoming place, with a lot of rooms not as big as in other pubs. It is also located right in the Altstadt. Their Kölsch is pretty good: not too malty, with subtle notes from the hops,… a beer to drink in large volumes.
A truly giant. Among the Kölsch league, that is how you can describe Früh. It is, with Gaffel and Reissdorf, one of the few breweries which export their beer, brewed in a big facility in the outskirts of Cologne. Opened in 1904, their brewery pub is located a few meters from the cathedral in an impressive building that, in addition to its huge pub restaurant (with space for more than 1000 people!!!) also holds a hotel. Due to its location, it is almost constantly full of tourists drinking and eating in its countless rooms. This overcrowding make it lose some charm, but it is worth to visit it at less once to drink their Kölsch, similar to the ones from Peters or Gaffel. Balanced, with a nice hint of hops and maybe smoother than Gaffel’s. We had lunch here and both food and service were good, although a little bit more expensive than in other places.
Another Kölsch monster brewery. Gaffel fights Früh the first place in pub presence in pubs all over Cologne. Their spectacular brewery pub Gaffel am Dom is located in front of the cathedral and it is huge, although unlike Früh, it is distributed in larger halls, what makes it appear more spacious. Despite its location, it has less tourists than Früh, with more local clients, at least when we were there. With typical German cuisine, we were having dinner one day here at ease in the middle of a great atmosphere. Their Kölsch, although in my opinion one point below the ones from Peters or Früh, it is very similar to these two, maybe a little less bitter. Clean, dry, with notes of hops in flavor and aroma, it was the first Kölsch we drank in Cologne (in another pub) and we liked it a lot.
Hellers has farthest brewery pub of all, and it shows the most modern decoration. It is very long with a lot of smaller rooms and a beer garden. We were there when they were opening it in the afternoon and there were few people, but it was maybe not the right time. It is a welcoming place and they have something the rest of the breweries don’t have. In Hellers, in addition to their Kölsch, they also brew other beer styles (Pils, Weizen, Mailbock,…). We didn’t taste them, maybe in another opportunity. Their Kölsch is malty, bitterer than the one at Malzmühle, and with little hop flavor. As any other Kölsch, very drinkable.
Located in the Altstadt, Sion is what you have in your head when you imagine a German brewery pub. Huge halls full of tables with servers going from one place to another, in one of the largest brewery pubs of Cologne. With a great tradition, the brewery was founded in 1318, and now it seems to be under control of Interbrew. We didn’t eat anything here, but the menu looked good. Their Kölsch was too bitter for me and somewhat plain, with less shades than the previous beers I described above.
Of all the Kölsch we tasted, the one from Reissdorf was the only one that disappointed us. Their pub is probably the smallest of the ones we visited. In fact, when we were there, there was only one person serving the tables. It is away from the city centre and the food looked good, although we didn’t eat anything. This was the only place where the Kölsch wasn’t dispensed from wooden casks by gravity. They served us from tap (we couldn’t see where the taps were connected). We thought it was too bland for a Kölsch and it reminded us more of a Pils.
Well, that was my recap from Cologne and Kölsch. In a future post we’ll tell you about what we visited in Dusseldorf and the Altbiers we tasted, in the second part of our trip to Western Germany. If any of you had visited Cologne feel free to post your comments below about your favorite Kölsch. And for one of you who had not been to Cologne we hope this post helps you to plan your trip. Prost!