• Germany edition
 
Food & Drink in Germany
Giving beer a home in the Rhineland
Photo: DPA

Giving beer a home in the Rhineland

Published: 28 Jul 2011 12:11 GMT+02:00
Updated: 28 Jul 2011 12:11 GMT+02:00

Cologne and Düsseldorf might be situated a mere 40 kilometres apart along the Rhine River, but spiritually they exist in different galaxies.

The two cities’ fierce regional rivalry extends to Karneval parades, football, and, of course, beer.

Whereas Cologne is all about drinking golden Kölsch in dainty glasses, Düsseldorf prefers the more ale-like favour of darker Alt.

To avoid ridicule while touring the Rhineland, caution is advised. A customer trying to order a glass of Alt beer in a Cologne pub will earn scorn and mockery from waiters and patrons alike. Conversely, asking for some Kölsch in a Düsseldorf locale is a sure-fire way of becoming the butt of many jokes for the rest of the night.

“It's a kind of love-hate relationship,” says Dirk Rouenhoff, master brewer at Schlüssel, a traditional brewery in Düsseldorf's historic centre. “Ultimately, it's something amusing that provides plenty of conversational fodder as well as funny anecdotes. And it can be a useful gimmick in advertising campaigns.”

The best example is a now-infamous billboard that adorned the streets of Düsseldorf last year. Früh, Cologne's third-largest beer brand by sales volume, depicted an empty Kölsch glass alongside the caption, “Before it gets old” – a stinging pun on “alt,” the German word for “old” as well as the beer. Another ad agency quickly pushed back in the name of Düsseldorf's brewers with a campaign claiming “Alt knallt,” which translates loosely as “Alt is the bomb.”

In fact, Früh's disparaging comment about Alt doesn't reflect the reality of how it is brewed. Rather than describing the age of the beer itself, the name refers to the old style of brewing that dates back to the days before Germans discovered lager. Around the mid-nineteenth century, brewers in Düsseldorf began using the same malts found in modern pale lagers but retained the old method of using warm, top-fermenting yeast that is also used to brew ales in England.

One beer to bind them

Strict adherence to unique traditions is a trait of both Alt and Kölsch, and it's something that German beer drinkers have come to appreciate again in recent years.

“We've been experiencing a huge boom over the past six to seven years,” says Andree Vrana, master brewer at Malzmühle, the Cologne brewery whose waiters – or “Köbes” as they are called locally – once served former US President Bill Clinton a glass of Kölsch.

“These days, large breweries are closing or consolidating faster than small ones are opening,” Vrana says. He suspects that the trend amounts to a widespread repudiation of the “standard-issue taste” of manufactured beer. “The big breweries try to make one flavour for all, but what people really want is something special.”

Mühlen Kölsch does indeed have a special taste that is not everyone's cup of tea, or glass of beer as the case may be. Through the use of natural hops, lower attenuation levels and the addition of extra hops towards the end of the brewing process, Mühlen has a definitive malty taste and what Vrana calls a “subtle floral aroma.” The recipe has made this Kölsch variety a Cologne staple that dates back to 1858 and sells around 38,000 hectolitres annually today.

Although the three largest Kölsch breweries – Reissdorf, Gaffel and Früh – control roughly 60 percent of the Cologne beer market, smaller breweries such as Malzmühle still manage to turn a comfortable profit. From a purely commercial point of view, however, they are unable to compete with industrial producers selling their beer at low prices through economies of scale.

This economic logic also applies to Düsseldorf’s breweries. Due to their relatively small output, production costs and staff payrolls make up a much larger share of the bottom line. In return, customers have to be willing to pay more for a glass of their favourite brew.

“There is a simple explanation for this: Consumers want to know where their beer is coming from,” Rouenhoff says. “Beer needs a home.”

The dark side

But which beer tastes better? Kölsch is generally a light, clear and refreshing beer with a more or less noticeable hops note depending on the brand. Although Alt also uses top-fermenting yeast, the Düsseldorf varieties have a darker brown colour that contrasts with the pale yellow hue of Kölsch.

“[Alt] is in every way stronger than Kölsch,” Rouenhoff says. “Because you can taste the roasted malt and because it uses more hops.” Roasted malt also lends the beer a particular flavour that isn’t found in Kölsch varieties. “It has a very mild flavour,” Rouenhoff says diplomatically while trying not to offend his colleagues in Cologne.

But as fellow craftsmen, the two cities’ brewers are less concerned with the ongoing regional rivalry.

“Of course there are differences between Düsseldorf and Cologne, but the breweries don’t participate in that much,” says Tobias Heller, sales manager at Füchsen, another traditional brewery in Düsseldorf.

At the same time, Heller claims the people of Düsseldorf are more open to other beers than their neighbours downriver. “Folks in Cologne are really obsessed with their beer,” he says. As proof, Heller points out that there is a Kölsch bar in Düsseldorf but no Alt pub in Cologne.

But perhaps the availability of Kölsch in the city of Alt also says something about Düsseldorf’s beer.

“The pub is mainly popular with women who don’t enjoy drinking Alt because of its strong tartness,” Heller says. “In the end, it all comes down to personal taste.”

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

13:26 July 28, 2011 by Grebo
Just for the record, one can indeed buy Alt beer in a Cologne pub, the Braustelle. In fact, it is my favorite beer there. Check out http://www.braustelle.com/
18:13 July 29, 2011 by romber58
The last sentence of this article is all you need to read or know.The rest is just journalistic b.s. padding
11:49 July 30, 2011 by Petew
I am English and I know that Germany brews excellent beer, and indeed some of the finest in the world. However, I have seen German youths drinking Budweiser Lite in Spain. Please have a word with them.
20:50 July 30, 2011 by WAKeele
Well said Petew!
10:35 August 1, 2011 by Small Town Boy
@romber58: It's called an "article". Even your favourite newspaper, The Sun, has them. This one was fairly well researched.
00:57 August 3, 2011 by jbaker
Ahhh..... Breakfast Beer!
19:14 August 6, 2011 by popvoid
I've spent a lot of time in both cities, as they are often destinations for trade shows that I attend. When I'm in Düsseldorf I drink Alt beer, and in Cologne I drink Kölsch . I love them both, Kölsch tastes like the summer to me, while Alt beer tastes like autumn.
07:40 August 13, 2011 by ValleyLad
I like beer
Today's headlines
Glass memorial honours Nazi disabled victims
Floral tributes were laid on Tuesday at the new Holocaust memorial in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Glass memorial honours Nazi disabled victims

A 24-metre blue glass wall in Berlin has been unveiled to commemorate the systematic murder of up to 300,000 mentally ill and disabled people under Adolf Hitler. READ  

Germany to help with Mediterranean refugees
Migrants aboard an Italian navy patrol vessel in April 2014. Photo: DPA

Germany to help with Mediterranean refugees

Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière on Tuesday pledged support for his Italian colleague in the struggle to manage refugees trying to reach the European Union via its southern coast. READ  

Ice bucket challenge raises €500,000 in a week
Elephant Nelly takes part in the ice bucket challenge in a Lower Saxony safari park. Photo: DPA

Ice bucket challenge raises €500,000 in a week

The coffers of the German Society for Muscular Disease (DGM) are overflowing with donations thanks to the viral craze for videos of donors dousing themselves with ice-cold water. READ  

Russian-German school opens in teeth of conflict
The GRIAT will open in the Russian city of Kazan. Photo: Shutterstock

Russian-German school opens in teeth of conflict

The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) is pressing ahead with its German-Russian Institute of Advanced Technologies (GRIAT) against a backdrop of international tensions over Ukraine. READ  

Schweinsteiger is new Germany captain: Löw
Photo: DPA

Schweinsteiger is new Germany captain: Löw

Bastian Schweinsteiger will replace fellow Bayern Munich player Philipp Lahm as captain of the German national football team, head trainer Joachim Löw said on Tuesday. READ  

Munich minister resigns in 'model car scandal'
Christine Haderthauer at her resignation press conference in Munich on Monday. Photo: DPA

Munich minister resigns in 'model car scandal'

Christine Haderthauer, head of the Bavarian state chancery, resigned “with immediate effect” on Monday evening over the so-called “model car scandal” in which her company sold scale models built by a man convicted of three sexual murders. READ  

Russia 'severed' from Europe: President Gauck
President Gauck stands shoulder to shoulder with President Komorowski of Poland in Gdansk on Monday. Photo: DPA

Russia 'severed' from Europe: President Gauck

Russia has "effectively severed its partnership" with Europe and wants to establish a new order, German President Joachim Gauck said on Monday. READ  

National Uber ban is revenge of the taxis
Taxis are a powerful trade lobby in Germany. Photo: DPA

National Uber ban is revenge of the taxis

The Frankfurt regional court has imposed a temporary nationwide ban on chauffeur car service Uber, saying that it must pay a €250,000 fine if passengers continue to book rides through its app. READ  

Sex party 'desecrates' Bavarian royal spa
The facade of the Bad Reichenhall Royal Spa Hotel.

Sex party 'desecrates' Bavarian royal spa

The Bavarian finance ministry has demanded a report from the company running a publicly-owned spa in the town of Bad Reichenhall after they rented the property out for a fetish party. READ  

Merkel details Iraq arms shipment to MPs
Angela Merkel addressing the Bundestag on Monday as her ministers look on. Photo: DPA

Merkel details Iraq arms shipment to MPs

UPDATE: Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the Bundestag on Monday to explain her government's decision to send weapons to Iraqi Kurds fighting terrorist group Isis. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Sponsored Article
Bilingual education from nursery to graduation at Phorms
Photo: Shutterstock
Gallery
Ten of the oddest things found by German border control
Photo: Gerkan, Marg and Partners/Tegel Projekt GmbH/J. Mayer
Berlin
How will Berlin look in five years' time?
Photo: DPA
Culture
Sprechen Sie Deutsch? 10 reasons why you should
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The best of Berlin's mayor Klaus Wowereit in 14 pictures
Photo: DPA
Politics
Germany sends burgers and sausages to Kurds
Photo: Matthias Kock
National
Tribes, ties and a movie: A German's Afghan life
Photo: DPA
Gallery
10 things to do before summer in Germany is really over
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The mysteries of Berlin's abandoned theme park
Photo: Europeana.de 1914 - 1918
Gallery
A German soldier's life behind WWI lines
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,413
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd