Tyson has mentioned a few of the beery delights of Cologne and as I often do, I agree with his assessments, so I'd like to concentrate mainly on the pubs themselves and the attitudes and idiosyncrasies that govern them. First of all if I had to choose between Cologne and Düsseldorf, it would almost certainly be Cologne. If you could just move Zum Uerige to Cologne, then everything would be perfect. Sacrilege I know, but there you are. Cologne for me is much buzzier and alive than its Rhine neighbour and has better places to drink. Does it have better beer to drink? Well, yes and no. A matter of preference really.
Near the main railway station, PJ Fruh is one of my favourite places. Mostly I'm hugging the wall in the schwemme or public bar, where one can watch the waiters fill their trays with beer freshly poured from a wooden barrel and of course, not wait more than a second or two for a another glass. We certainly needed a drink after severe train delays and standing all the way from Düsseldorf - Deutsche Bahn is going through a bad patch. Being mob handed, the schwemme was out of the question of course, so through many rooms we went, all huge and all full to the brim, until somewhere deep beneath, there was a room that was busy but could still take the 14 or so people we had. The place had hundreds outside on a beautiful Autumn day and even more hundreds inside. Here is lesson number one. Most of the good pubs in Cologne are big and boy are they busy. The Germans like to eat lunch out. And dinner it seems. Service was brusque and business like. When things are done on this scale, there is little time for chat.
Then a quick visit to old favourites Sion and round the corner Peter's Brauhaus, where one of our female tripsters was refused a glass of wine as the waiter had counted 12 of us and brought 12 glasses of beer. (She could have wine the next time he patronised.) That's another thing common to both Cologne and Dusseldorf. You'll have the devil's own job to get anything other than beer and one beer at that mostly. Confidence or cheek? You decide.
Tyson, Eddie and I then went seeking different Kölsches. As Tyson has pointed out, most are brewed in the same place and the Dom Brauerei Ausschank (Brewery Tap) did not, alas, include the brewery. Outside as it is on the Rhine, beer terraces overflowed with customers. Inside was as deserted as could be. Another little quirk you find in Germany emerged. We picked a table by the window among a sea of empty tables. A waiter rushed over. "You can't sit there." He gestured to another row of identically empty tables and we went over. He didn't like the one we chose then either, but asserting ourselves, we just stayed put. He wasn't happy. That happens a lot too, but Old Grumpy was replaced by a cheery young lad who sorted our beer out. German waiters want you to do it their way. Another German trait.
Again in the empty beer hall at Sünner, a lovely out of town brewery that actually still brews, we had to plead with Herr Ober before we were allowed to have a drink. We said we would be an hour and we were. We were gone before any of the evening guests arrived and no tables had reserved signs at that point. Just German intransigence? Probably. Later that evening we were in no uncertain terms told we couldn't have a drink in Haus Töller, as it was fully booked with diners. I'd particularly wanted my friends to see the inside of this remarkable survivor of bombing. Fair enough I suppose, but there was a smugness that bordered on arrogance in this dismissal.
Of course, where there are downs, there are ups. In most places, waiters couldn't have been kinder or more accommodating, but certainly later in the day, if you are not eating, or inside early, you may have to forgo your chosen watering hole. It was nearly thus in the Reissdorf BreweryTap, an old haunt, but fortunately the unseasonably warm weather allowed us to drink outside where a lovely young waitress cheerily kept our glasses filled. No mean task I assure you. I like Reissdorf, it's a bit more pokey than most examples of the kölsch genre. Less traditional was a place I'd always wanted to go to as we've sold their beer for years now at GBBF. Braustelle do more than standard beer in a very busy pub, filled to bursting with a mixed crowd, but mostly twenty plus. Regrettably we'd just missed the pale ale, but the alt, yes alt in Cologne, was more like a porter and very moreish, so we had some more.
So what's going on? Cologne if anything seemed to be booming more than Düsseldorf. Pubs were going like a fair but we got the impression that
this had allowed a touch of complacency to emerge in some quarters at
least. How easily are the seven lean years forgotten, when plenty is
Nonetheless these are minor points. We stayed in Cologne much later than planned, drinking good beer in busy friendly pubs. It's that kind of place.
I've missed out visits to several more pubs that are positive gems. Some other time eh?
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink. He also judges beer at both the International Beer Challenge and the World Beer Awards.
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