Tap Bergmann Brewery Dortmund, © Ruhr Tourismus GmbH CC-BY-SA

FAQs about beer in NRW

Twelve ques­tions and an­swers

Do you have any questions about beer and brewery visits? Find answers and quench your thirst for knowledge here! The value of theory notwithstanding, collecting some practical experience is the best treasure trove of knowledge. We hope that our collection is going to provide you with some useful information and that you will enjoy your hands-on trial. After all, the proof of the beer is in the drinking!

"Bierdeckel ist Ehrensache", © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.

Beer know­ledge at a glance

What breweries are there in North Rhine-Westphalia?
NRW has a great many breweries, from large, internationally renowned ones to small craft breweries. The Deutscher Brauer-Bund (German Brewers’ Association) estimates their number at about 130 in 2023, putting NRW in third place in the state comparison in terms of brewery density. The Kölner Brauerei-Verband (Cologne Brewery Association) alone has 17 member companies, while 30 breweries are members of the Brauereiverband NRW.

What is the most frequently drunk beer in NRW?
Pilsner, Alt, and Kölsch beers flow at very different regional quantities in North Rhine-Westphalia. However, Pilsner is holding a share of about 75 percent of beer output, which makes it one of the most popular varieties, followed by Alt and Kölsch. Incidentally, Alt and Kölsch have more in common than is often thought: While Pilsner beer is bottom-fermented, both of the Rhenish specialities are top-fermented ones, where yeast floats on top.

How many beer varieties does NRW have in total?
The number of beer varieties is probably in the hundreds if counting all variations and seasonal breweries as well. However, it is virtually impossible to determine a precise number here since the types of beer are nearly as diverse as the locals. Traditional beers such as Pilsner, Kölsch, and Altbier are part of the staple range, which is supplemented by an increasing number of craft beers and seasonal specialities. An ever-growing number of microbreweries and craft beer breweries are offering a vast range of beer types, including wheat beers, IPAs, stouts, sour beers, and many others, too.

When was beer first brewed in NRW?
The Germanic tribes were brewing beer for their own consumption and cult rituals in the early Middle Ages here already. As Christianisation progressed around 1000 CE, brewing developed into an art in its own right in regional monasteries. The 15th and 16th centuries saw beer production gradually move from the countryside to the cities. Foreign trade in this sector started to flourish until a number of brewers’ associations eventually formed a guild in the late 17th century. Industrialisation led to a proper brewing boom in the 19th century, with many companies that still write stories of success in NRW today originating in that period. Some examples include the Stauder family brewery in Essen, the Diebels brewery in Issum, and the Strate private brewery in Detmold.

What is the most popular beer in NRW?
The “most popular” beer will vary from region to region. Kölsch is drunk in Cologne, while Altbier is the clear favourite in Düsseldorf. These preferences often are deeply rooted in the local culture. Generally popular German brands such as Veltins, Warsteiner, and Krombacher, produced in the Sauerland and Siegerland regions, enjoy great popularity in NRW as well.

What makes beer experience in North Rhine-Westphalia unique?
NRW offers a unique beer culture that goes from traditional breweries to modern craft beer bars. Some beer traditions are unique to the region: Freshly brewed Kölsch, for example, is only available in the cathedral city because, according to the Kölsch convention, it must not be brewed away from Cologne. The Lower Rhine region is where the dark counterpart with a malty flavour has its roots: Bolten brewery in Korschenbroich is considered the world’s oldest Altbier brewery.

What are some famous breweries that can be visited in NRW?
NRW is the home of some of Germany’s most famous breweries, including Cologne’s breweries with their famous Kölsch, Dortmund’s breweries that are famous for their export beer, and Düsseldorf’s old town with its Altbier tradition. Many breweries offer guided tours and tastings.

What are some typical dishes served in a brewery?
The brewery menu may surprise newcomers quite a lot. For example, millions of visitors to Cologne have been looking forward to having half a chicken when ordering a Halver Hahn, only to receive a rye bread roll with a thick slice of cheese (and mustard), served with a smug grin from the Köbes (waiter). Be careful with Kölsch caviar, too, which is nothing at all like the name suggests. Instead of the refined fish eggs, you will end up with a hearty black pudding loaded generously with bacon cubes. Caviar goes better with champagne than with beer anyway, though.

What culinary specialities are recommended?
The regional cuisine in NRW perfectly complements the beer experience. Typical dishes to try in the brewery include Rhenish sauerbraten, “Himmel und Ääd” (baked black pudding with mashed potatoes and apple compote) or “Krüstchen” (schnitzel on bread with fried egg and salad). Of course, vegetarian dishes, such as the Halver Hahn (see above) are available as well.

What is a “Stößchen” or “Stössje”?
The “Stößchen” is a small glass that holds 0.1 litres and a Dortmund speciality. Today, it is commonly sold in pubs around the Alter Markt, even if it often cannot be found on the menu.

Stössje are also known in and around Cologne. They are often used by the landlord or Köbes to drink a Kölsch offered by the guest without having to down the usual amount of a “Kölner Stange” glass (0.2 litres).

What else does one need to keep in mind at the brewery?
Following the initial order, no words need to be spoken anymore: A glass that is empty or close to getting that way will be replaced by the Köbes without prompting. Even the most beer-soaked night will be over at some point, however. You might ask the Köbes for the cheque then, or you may continue to communicate wordlessly by simply placing your beer mat on top of your empty glass. That will tell the Köbes that you want to call it a night.

What role does NRW play in German beer culture?
North Rhine-Westphalia used to play a central role in beer culture and continues to do so. The oldest Altbier brewery in the world has been located in Korschenbroich in the Lower Rhine region since 1266. The small Bolten private brewery has been brewing the hand-made original Altbier there for generations. Other breweries from NRW have made names for themselves with Pilsner and three of the ten largest breweries in Germany (Krombacher, Warsteiner, and Veltins) are headquartered in North Rhine-Westphalia. NRW also contributes significantly to the diversity and vibrancy of the German beer landscape with its Kölsch and Altbier types, as well as with its many breweries and traditional brewery pubs.

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