Sunday was the first sunny day in quite a while, so we took a trip to Düsseldorf. Düsseldorf is only a half hour train ride, once we get to the main train station in Köln. That's no small feat in itself, however. Around 11:30, we set out to board a crowded tram. On Sundays no shops or even grocery stores are open, however kiosks are open for business, so what should you do? How about grab a tall can of lemon flavored beer and ride the tram? You might imagine this habit belonging to a certain class of people, but it seems to run a broad socioeconomic spectrum. Picture a Seattle weekday morning commute and now replace the Starbucks cups with half liter beers, and you have a Sunday morning Köln tram.
Anyway, we arrived in Düsseldorf in time for lunch and began our Alt Bier tasting excursion. As kölsch is to Köln, Alt Bier is to Düsseldorf. Alt Bier is amber in color, where kölsch is very light. Like kölsch, alt is served in smallish 0,25 liter glasses (which makes it ideal to sample many different kinds – if, that is, you don't drink 3 at each brewery). Each bar/restaurant/brewery serves one kind only, and fresh glasses are brought to your table before the foam has a chance to touch the bottom of your previous glass, the waiter tracking your consumption with pencil marks on your coaster (this is all like kölsch in Köln). A small distinction from Köln that we noticed was that alts are often enjoyed on your feet, standing around small tables beer-garden-style, where we've usually drank our kölsch seated at outdoor cafe tables. The interiors, however, aren't too different from Köln's breweries. Armed with our list of Düsseldorf's four best Braueries (thanks once again to European Beer Guide), we had a busy day planned.
This is by far the largest Brauhaus we attended. The outdoor seating was vast and packed with people, from young families to old couples (all of which would have way more marks on their coasters than we would ever want to have). An energetic jazz band played in one of the breweries several indoor chambers. As for the beer, this alt was light in body, but with a delicious roasted aftertaste you don't often encounter in a beer so refreshing on a sunny day. We had to be very insistent to get the bill and not have more glasses placed on our coasters.
After a walk along the Rhein, it was time to try some Füchschen Alt. This one was more bitter than the Zum Uerige – perhaps even hoppier? We also had a spotting of a Bierbike (in broad daylight, so it wasn't a figment of our collective imagination last summer). On the parked Bierbike, a kid that looked perhaps 11 was serving bottles of Beck's to his marginally older friends. Since “Füchsen” means “fox” in German, they have a taxidermy fox in the entry way to the bar – classy!
Hausbrauerei zum Schlüssel
After a little sunning in the park and some pizza, it was on to Hausbrauerei zum Schlüssel. Just after 7:00pm, Altstadt (the “old city” and the main neighborhood) was really starting to heat up. As our guide told us, “the beer isn't bad, either, coming, as usual, directly from oak casks on the bar.” As we passed Zum Uerige, we saw the people who, five hours earlier, shared our table, their condition happily unchanged.
This brauhaus is located between Altstadt and the train station, so a convenient starting or stopping point. For those who can't be bothered with the extra walk, there's a Schumacher pub in Altstadt, about twenty yards from Schlüssel, but we opted for the full Brauerie experience. We actually sat inside here (though by some very large windows). This alt was very, very smooth and reminded us a little of Full Sail's Rip Curl – but then, can we even remember what a Northwest brew tastes like anymore?
We returned to Köln that night, where the tram riders had calmed very little at all. Fares for public transportation practically work on an honor system here. For the first time, we had our tickets checked by KVB transit authorities. We were legit, but the halfhearted protests of a couple of ticketless passengers provided that extra dose of weekend tram drama to cap off our adventure.