If you’re planning a visit to Düsseldorf, Germany, there’s one quintessential experience you simply can’t miss – drinking a glass of Altbier! Altbier, meaning “old beer” in German, is more than just a drink; it’s a piece of Düsseldorf’s rich brewing heritage and culture.
Now being a person who lives in Düsseldorf’s rival city Cologne, I can’t praise Altbier too loudly. I am required to worship at the altar of Kölsch beer, of course. However I must admit, I actually like Altbier quite a bit. I know, I know. Blasphemy. But the malty, smooth flavor is comforting and complex, something that is especially nice to drink during the long, gray German winters.
Whenever I visit Düsseldorf, which is relatively often thanks to my husband working there, I always pop into a brauhaus (or brewery in German) for a glass of Altbier. In this blog post, I break down everything you need to know about Altbier. I’ll take you on a journey through the fascinating world of Altbier, from its history to the best places to savor it. So, grab your glass and get ready to immerse yourself in the brauhaus culture of Düsseldorf!
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Everything You Need to Know About Altbier in Düsseldorf
What is Altbier?
Altbier, often referred to simply as “Alt,” is the traditional beer from Düsseldorf. This dark and copper-colored beer is known for its distinct malty sweetness, balanced by a subtle hop bitterness. Despite its appearance, altbier is a fairly light beer (usually between 4.3% – 5.5% ABV) with a fresh and full-bodied taste.
What sets Altbier apart from other German beer styles is its fermentation process. Unlike the more famous bottom-fermented lagers of Germany, Altbier is a top-fermented ale, similar to Kölsch actually. This unique brewing method imparts a slightly fruity and complex flavor profile to the beer.
History of Altbier
The term “Alt” in Altbier refers to its “old” style. It has been brewed in the Düsseldorf area for centuries. In spite of its ancient lineage, Altbier is considered a modern brew. The beer as we know it today was developed in the 19th century. It acquired this moniker when trendy new pale lagers began to dominate in the European beer-scene, and older styles of brewing were old fashioned.
Altbier brewing flourished in Düsseldorf because of its temperate geography. Düsseldorf doesn’t get too warm in the summer, and rarely freezes in winter. These conditions are perfect for brewing cold-fermented ales such as Altbier throughout the year. In warmer parts of Germany, beer is often brewed only in winter, as summer heat turns beer sour.
By the mid 20th century, there were around 100 Altbier breweries. Unfortunately, today less than 10 remain. This is largely due to the lack of demand. Altbier only has 2% market share across Germany. Thankfully, on its home turf in Düsseldorf, just about every beer consumed is an Altbier.
Brauhaus Culture in Düsseldorf
Before heading into an Altbier brauhaus for the first time, there are a few special cultural traditions you should know about. Altbier culture is the heartbeat of Düsseldorf after all! Here’s what you can expect when you step into a typical Düsseldorf brauhaus.
Unlike Bavarian beers served in massive 1 liter glass steins like you might be familiar with from Oktoberfest, Altbier is always served in small, cylindrical glasses. These glasses typically hold around 250 milliliters (mL) of beer. They are specifically designed to maintain the beer’s temperature and showcase its rich color. This means you’re never drinking a warm, flat beer!
Service in a traditional German brauhaus, especially in the Rhineland, tends to be gruff or grouchy, especially to those who are not accustomed to it. By American standards, the service can be perceived as straight-up rude. Don’t let it bother you – this is all part of the fun. Each Köbes, or beer hall server, has their own little spiel that they play, usually leaning into the grumpy vibes. You’ll get what you need, when they feel like it, and you’ll be happy about it. They are professionals who are responsible for lots of tables, so don’t expect them to hang around for a chat.
One fun aspect of the brauhaus culture in Düsseldorf is the unspoken system of refills. No sooner than you’ve taken your last sip, a fresh glass full of golden Alt nectar will appear. It is like a beer fairy, magically bringing you a fresh brew. After ordering your first round, your server will continually bring you new glasses of Alt – without even asking!
They’ll keep track of how many beers you’ve drank by marking a tick mark on your coaster with a pencil. The beers will keep coming until you place a coaster on top of your glass. This is the “secret signal” to the server that you’ve had enough, and you’re ready to pay. It’s a simple yet effective way to keep your glass full, ensuring you never run dry.
Where to Drink Altbier in Düsseldorf
The Old Town in Düsseldorf is the epicenter for Altbier and undoubtedly the best starting point for a DIY bar crawl through the city’s best Altbier bars. There are more than 200 bars crowded together in an area less than one-mile square, affectionately dubbed the longest bar in the world.
You can find Altbier at practically any bar in town, but I recommend seeking out one of the traditional brauhauses first. It is a more authentic way to experience Altbier. Each Altbier brauhaus has its unique charm and approach to this beloved brew, and trying them all can be a fun adventure in itself. Below are my favorite 5 Altbier brauhaus bars to try in Düsseldorf!
If you’re looking for a true Altbier experience, Uerige is a must-visit. This is one of the most well-known spots in town, in no small part thanks to its prime location on a massive corner in the heart of Old Town. Uerige is also the largest Altbier brewery in Düsseldorf, with roots dating back to 1862. I usually stand at one of their outdoor tables, but don’t miss your chance to peek inside. The interior is atmospheric, complete with wood-paneled, painted frescos, and a maze of interlocking rooms. Expect colorful service from their Köbes, who always know how to have a good time.
- Address: Berger Str. 1, 40213 Düsseldorf
- Website: http://www.uerige.de/
Serving ‘Original Schlüssel’ (advertised as Europe’s best Alt) straight from the barrel, Zum Schlüssel is a Düsseldorf institution. They don’t bottle their beer, always serving it directly from the barrel. They claim it provides the drinker with a fresh, full-bodied distinctive taste at the ideal temperature of 4°C. Established in 1850, the brewery was later inherited by Karl Gatzweiler, member of the brewing dynasty Gatzweiler, who have been brewing beer since 1313. I guess you could say they know a thing or two about brewing beer! They have an unusual “beer garden” across the street that sits in the shadow of a historic church.
- Address: Bolkerstraße 41-47, 40213 Düsseldorf
- Website: http://www.zumschluessel.de/
Brauerei im Füchschen
Füchschen, which means “little fox” in German, is a charming brewery with a rustic and traditional atmosphere. I really like the vibes here, and this is probably my favorite of the Düsseldorf Altbier. The beer is somehow smoother than others with a hint of caramel sweetness. It’s also slightly off the beaten path in Old Town, so it usually isn’t quite as rowdy.
- Address: Ratinger Str. 28, 40213 Düsseldorf
- Website: http://www.fuechschen.de/
For a modern twist on the classic Altbier experience, Kurzer is a fantastic choice. This trendy spot is my husband’s favorite Altbier in Düsseldorf. From the minute you walk in, you’ll notice an aesthetic difference. The bare brick walls and industrial features transport you somewhere else, and the young, friendly (and often English speaking!) staff create a cool ambiance. I’ve spent far too many hours in this bar…
- Address: Kurze Str. 20, 40213 Düsseldorf
- Website: http://www.brauerei-kuerzer.de/
Another iconic name in Düsseldorf’s Altbier scene is Schumacher. They have been serving their classic brew since 1838. Their primary brauhaus is on Oststraße on the outskirts of the Old Town; but, most people are familiar with their location at Im Goldenen Kessel on Bolkerstraße. Regardless which location you go to, Schumacher is a meeting place for locals and visitors alike with an inviting atmosphere. I especially like the oak barrels turned tables! There are often special events hosted here, including a number of Karneval festivities. At 4.6%, Schumacher’s Altbier exhibits a pleasant bitterness and rounded aroma.
- Address: Bolkerstraße 44, 40213 Düsseldorf Oststraße 123, 40210 Düsseldorf
- Website: http://www.brauerei-schumacher.de/