Speciality beers of NRW
Pilsener, Altbier, Kölsch and other regional speciality beers
The beers of NRW are as diverse as the region itself. Traditional recipes and interesting new creations guarantee the perfect glass for every taste. Whether they are fruity, lively, dry, sweet or full-flavoured – every beer brewed in North Rhine-Westphalia is a true original!
North Rhine-Westphalia is not just Germany’s most populous state, but also the state with the most varieties of beer. Every region of NRW has breweries that let visitors taste their lovingly-made brews while also giving them a comprehensive insight into the world of beer. The classic varieties are Kölsch, Düsseldorf Altbier and good old Pilsener, but those who wish to explore a little further will find plenty of easy-to-drink speciality beers.
For the people of Cologne, Kölsch is more than just a beer. This pale, top-fermented brew is firmly embedded in the city’s culture and ranks alongside Cologne Cathedral as a symbol of the city and its surrounding region. Indeed, the history of Kölsch is almost as old as that of the cathedral, with records of Kölsch breweries dating as far back as the 13th century. Today, 25 different Kölsch brands are being produced. Some are made in large-scale breweries whilst others are produced in traditional microbreweries and mostly served in the rustic atmosphere of an adjoining inn.
The atmosphere in a true Kölsch brewery pub is unique. With a rich mix of people and a genuine spirit of hospitality, the glasses are constantly replenished by the “Köbes”, as the old-style waiters of Cologne are called. The numerous breweries are popular with tourists and locals alike. Kölsch lovers are also well catered for in the area surrounding Cologne, with several brewery pubs and beer gardens serving the top-fermented beer in the Bergisches Land region. In Bonn, meanwhile, visitors will need a little more local knowledge if they want to order a Kölsch: here the pale beer goes by the name of Bönnsch.
Altbier is mostly savoured by locals and visitors in and around Düsseldorf. This very drinkable dark beer is inextricably linked to the state capital on the Rhine. Even though its name can be translated as “old beer”, this brew does not actually have a particularly long history or brewing process. “Altus” is Latin for “high” and refers to the high-rising yeast used to make this top-fermenting beer.
Outside of Düsseldorf, the dark brew is also popular in the surrounding Mettmann district and in the Lower Rhine. Visitors looking to savour a glass of Altbier in a traditionally rustic atmosphere should check out the microbreweries in the historic centre of Düsseldorf. The names to look out for include Füchschen, Schumacher, Schlüssel or Uerige. The malty flavour of this speciality beer really comes into its own when it is enjoyed in an authentic setting.
North Rhine-Westphalia is known throughout the world for the excellent quality and incomparable flavour of its Pilsener beers. Krombacher, Warsteiner, DAB, König Pilsener, Veltins, Fiege, Rolinck and many more all originated in Germany’s most populous state. Visitors to NRW will be able to order an authentic Pils brewed to German beer purity regulations just about everywhere. While in Cologne and Düsseldorf, it might admittedly be better to stick with the traditional local choices of Kölsch and Altbier, but it is fine to order a glass of Pilsener everywhere else.
The bottom-fermented beer is characterised by its pale to golden hue and ranks as one of the most popular beers in North Rhine-Westphalia. Apart from the well-known brands of the industrial breweries, a large number of microbreweries are also producing their own regional specialities. Visitors to NRW can sample these tasty beers, which are brewed with passion following traditional recipes, at the adjoining microbrewery inns.
Other regional specialities
In Bonn and the Rhine-Sieg district, the proximity to Cologne means that it is very easy to order a refreshing Kölsch in any of the brewery pubs, restaurants and bars. Just bear in mind that the pale, top-fermented beer goes by the name of Bönnsch in these parts. Traditional Pilsener varieties and other speciality beers are also produced in this region.
Unlike the Rhinelanders, the beer-lovers of the Eifel prefer a bottom-fermented brew. The pale “Eifeler Landbier” is brewed according to age-old tradition. It gets its typical character from the malting barley of the Northern Eifel and the soft, pure water from the Eifel National Park. The well-known Veltins and Warsteiner varieties from Sauerland as well as Krombacher from Siegerland-Wittgenstein are also brewed using beautifully pure spring water from their respective regions.
Small breweries, great-tasting beers
Many cities and regions have their own excellent-quality beers and breweries even though their names may not be particularly well known outside their region. Münsterland, for instance, has its major breweries like Pott’s but also small and informal brewery inns like Stephanus. Since this is excellent cycling country, visitors should consider covering the distance from one brewery to the next by bike.
In the Lower Rhine, visitors are truly spoilt for choice when it comes to beer. Altbier and weiss beer have been brewed here for centuries, but many varieties of Pilsener as well as local specialities like “Landbier” (country beer) have also become popular. Here, too, stopping off at beer gardens as part of a cycling tour is highly recommended.
The Teutoburg Forest is considered more of a hiking region. Of course, here too there are great opportunities to combine a hiking tour with an excursion to discover breweries large and small.
Beer-lovers will also feel right at home in the Ruhr Area. While the larger breweries used to dominate, many smaller, more regionally-focused producers have begun to spring up around the region. Some of them have achieved cult status, like Fiege in Bochum or Mölmsch in Mülheim (the latter had disappeared from the market for many years before its rediscovery by some young entrepreneurs).
In Bergisches Land, beer-lovers benefit from the proximity to Cologne, the Ruhr Area and Sauerland. Both Pilsner and Kölsch can be ordered in the region’s brewery inns, beer gardens and bars. These two beer varieties are still brewed the traditional way in the low mountain region between the Rhine, Ruhr and Sieg rivers.
Exploring the world of beer
There are many places in NRW where visitors can not only taste their beer in a convivial setting, but also hear fascinating stories about the tasty beverage or even try their hand at the brewer’s art themselves. In Düsseldorf, for example, there are guided Altbier-themed tours of the old-town breweries with plenty of opportunities to try different versions of this local brew. Several breweries, including the major producers in Sauerland and Siegerland, also offer discovery tours where visitors can follow the entire brewing process right up to the bottling stage.
In the former German beer capital of Dortmund, the Brauereimuseum tells the interesting story of the region’s brewing tradition. The Dortmund Union Brauerei played an important role in this story. Nowadays, all that remains of the brewery is the gigantic U crowning the former fermentation and storage building. Now known as Dortmund’s U-Tower, it has been transformed into a centre for art and creativity with exhibitions, a cinema and other amenities.
For those who fancy the job of brewer themselves, places like the Wuppertaler Brauhaus offer relevant seminars and courses.