Friends toast each other with Altbier in Düsseldorf's Old Town., © Johannes Höhn, Tourismus NRW e.V.

En­joy­ing beer in NRW

At the world’s longest bar

Entering a brewery pub is equivalent to stepping into a different world. Origin and hierarchies are rendered irrelevant. Everyone is on first-name terms, and it is easy to make new acquaintances. Not only is beer brewed here – as it has been for many generations in some cases – but sociable get-togethers will happen all on their own, at times resulting in proper friendships.

Guests of all age groups, regulars and newcomers alike, extroverts and introverts: The variety of people who gather around the taps in North Rhine-Westphalia is infinite. The beers they drink differ greatly, too: After all, North Rhine-Westphalia not only is the most populous state in Germany, but also the one with the greatest number of types of beer. The classics among them are Kölsch, Altbier, and Pilsner.

Timo in conversation with guests, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.

Kölsch – it’s more than just some beer

Kölsch is more than just some beer in Cologne – the pale, top-fermented brew has become as much a part of the city’s identity as Cologne cathedral for the residents. The local beer’s history dates back nearly as far as the cathedral itself: Records of Kölsch brewing from the 13th century have been found. There are more than 25 different brands today, from Früh, Päffgen, and Sion to Reissdorf and Gilden. Some of them come from large breweries, while others continue to be brewed in traditional home breweries and served in associated pubs.

For example, the Zur Malzmühle brewery serves Mühlenkölsch, a beer that even the American president once enjoyed. Timo Eckstein delivers the freshly tapped beer to the table in the typical Kölsch “Stangen” glasses there. He is a “Köbes”, a special breed of waiter who contributes to the proper brewery experience with his manner – which may be cheeky and brash, or monosyllabic and dry, and will turn cordial and cheerful when the situation calls for it. He may leave you amazed or make you laugh out loud. “A Köbes may be brash, but never impertinent,” he says. After all, “every table is a stage.” They pose and flirt, they tease and laugh.

Visit to a brewery in Düsseldorf's historic city centre , © Düsseldorf Tourismus

Alt­bi­er tour with house vis­its in Düs­sel­dorf’s old town

Altbier is flowing mostly from the taps in and around Düsseldorf, as it has for a very, very long time: The world’s oldest Altbier brewery has been producing the hoppy drink on the Lower Rhine since 1266 and the small Bolten private brewery in Korschenbroich continues to serve the traditional original Alt in exactly the same location today. The name of the palatable, dark beer does not, actually, as the German word “alt” seems to suggest, indicate that it is older or has been brewed for longer than other beers. “Altus” comes from Latin, meaning “high”. It refers to the rising yeast of this top-fermented beer.

Düsseldorf’s historical city centre is the most popular location for an Altbier tour and known around the world. At the “world’s longest bar”, five house breweries – Schumacher, Uerige, Kürzer, Füsschen, and Schlüssel – invite their guests to familiarise themselves with the drinking culture up close. A total of about 260 pubs, restaurants, and bars are gathered here on half of a square kilometre, offering something for any kind of hunger or thirst. Careful, though! If you order something other than beer in the brewery pub, such as a glass of mineral water, be prepared for the Köbes’ response being something along the lines of “Does this look like a swimming bath to you?” or: “Do you want to wash up? I’ll get you some soap and a towel, too, then!” Ordering beer, on the other hand, usually does not involve any spoken words at all. The Köbes will replace a glass that is empty or nearing that state with a new one without being prompted. Even the most beer-soaked evening will be over at some point, however. You can signal that to your Köbes by putting a beer mat on your empty glass. These signs work in Düsseldorf and in Cologne alike.

Beer enjoyment on the "Tag der Trinkhallen" (day of the drinking halls) in Duisburg.
, © Ruhr Tourismus GmbH CC-BY-SA

Pils­ner and Dortmun­der Ex­port beers – his­tory with plenty of feel­ing

While Kölsch and Altbier are rather regional specialities, Pilsner is popular world-wide – and several world-class Pilsner breweries are based in NRW, including Krombacher, Warsteiner, Veltins, and König Pilsener. Visitors can enjoy a genuine Pilsen-style beer brewed in accordance with the German Purity Law virtually everywhere in the state. It’s better to stick with Kölsch or Alt in the traditional Cologne and Düsseldorf breweries, however, to avoid disparaging looks from the Köbes.

Pilsner enjoys a long tradition in the Ruhr area. It has been brewed at the Moritz Fiege private brewery in Bochum since 1926, with the family’s brewing history even reaching back another two centuries. Time plays a role in the brewing process itself as well since careful brewing and slow maturation are part of the philosophy of the “Slow Brewing certified” brewery.

The people of Dortmund love their beer and are proud of their brewing tradition, which dates back to the 13th century and peaked in the 19th and 20th centuries. Dortmunder Export is a dedicated type of beer that once even made the city world famous and turned it into Europe’s number-one beer metropolis in terms of sales figures for a long time. Its history is told vividly by the brewery museum, which exhibits filling and bottle-washing machines from the 1950s and a counter with a beer pump from the 1920s. The “Dortmunder U”, the listed former Union brewery fermentation and storage tower, bears witness to this heyday as a landmark that is visible even from afar. It has become a new type of cultural centre for art, research, cultural education, and creativity with the golden U that has long since turned into a symbol of the city still shining on top of it.

Authentic beer can be enjoyed in one of Dortmund’s original pubs, e.g., at the Alter Markt, where thirsty guests can enjoy a cool beer either in the traditional taproom or in the beer garden. Beer is generally often drunk outdoors and standing up in the Ruhr area: Locals and visitors alike like to take their breaks at the kiosks that can be found on every corner here to chat and drink Pilsener beer. This “Büdchen” culture even enjoys some regular celebrations when participating kiosks throughout the region offer a free cultural programme as well as a mixed bag and beer on the “Tag der Trinkhalle”.

Maureen Wolf behind the counter of her restaurant in Cologne, © Holger Hage, Tourismus NRW e.V.

Well then: Cheers!

Many towns and regions in North Rhine-Westphalia have their very own beers and breweries. While most of them are not known beyond the region, they still deliver outstanding quality. Small or large, Alt, Kölsch, or Pilsner beer: Many places in NRW let guests not only drink their beer in a cosy atmosphere and get to know the region and its people up close, but also share some exciting stories about the delicious barley juice or let visitors try their hand at the art of brewing. In Düsseldorf, for example, a guided Altbier safari takes participants through the breweries of Düsseldorf’s old town; a Kölsch tour in Cologne serves some hearty brewery dishes alongside the beer, and the large breweries offer guided tours of their own, of course including tastings.

There is no reason not to taste the regional specialities on your own if you prefer. However, you will quickly find that the brewed treat tastes even better in the sociable atmosphere of the brewery table or at the pub bar than it does when you are home alone. Real friendships have been known to develop here, even: Maureen Wolf, for example, the landlady of the traditional Cologne pub “Oma Kleinmann”, maintains close relationships with many of her guests, but particularly with Manjet Gill and Jaswinder Phull, whom she even invited to her wedding. “I’ve grown so fond of them over the years, and I finally wanted to get to know their wives as well,” she recalls. During the difficult coronavirus period, the landlady not only received emotional, but also financial support from her guests. Some bought schnitzel to go even though they weren’t hungry, while others offered her interest-free private loans.

Whether Pilsner, Alt, or Kölsch beer: A wide variety of people gather around the taps in North Rhine-Westphalia to chat and get to know each other. The beer experience is not complete without some company. Well then: Cheers!

  • Enjoy freshly brewed beer together outside at the Bergmann Brewery in Dortmund., © Ruhr Tourismus GmbH CC-BY-SA
    Timo - ne echt kölsche Köbes, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.
    Table set with beer and food at the Johann Schäfer brewery in Cologne. , © Johannes Höhn, Tourismus NRW e.V.
  • Out and about together in Düsseldorf's old town, © Johannes Höhn, Tourismus NRW e.V.
    Fotowand in der Gaststätte Bei Oma Kleinmann in Köln, © Tourismus NRW e.V., Foto Holger Hage
    Altbier on beer bench, Düsseldorf, © Johannes Höhn

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