Cologne – the unsung beer capital of Germany

Although most would identify Munich as Germany’s beer capital what with the Oktoberfest craze… for us, it would be Cologne.

Cologne is where we first explored the craft beer variety Germany has to offer. It is where we saw locals relish craft beer as much as they do the revered Kölsch.

We started our beer journey in Cologne with the Kölsch – it seemed like the right thing to do. And, we were not disappointed. If you’ve read some of the posts on this blog, you will know that we are not huge fans of the Pils. That said, we don’t mind drinking them on tap every once in a while. It is full of fresh flavors and the Pils generally have a nice hoppiness to it, admittedly not the pale ale hoppiness that we like but good enough to drink occasionally.

We had our first Kölsch at the Gaffel am Dom. The Kölsch to us was really just a German pils, just not as hoppy. However, the Kölsch by classification is an ale as it’s top fermented unlike a Pils. Notice how it is served in a small glass. Now, that’s typical for a Kölsch. Another typical and somewhat amusing custom is the server filling your glass the second it is empty without checking if you’d like more. This makes you completely lose track of how much you’ve drunk but at the same time, it’s pretty cool that you’ll never need to wait for a beer! After a quite a few Kölschs, we put our beer coasters on top of our glass which seemed to be the norm when you’d had enough.

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We were pleased to find that Gaffel brewed another style of beer – it was somewhat similar to the Kölsch yet different because of the hops and fruity flavors. Like the Kölsch, this beer didn’t look or taste like a typical lager or ale.. whatever it was, we liked it! The Sonnen Hopfen as the name itself indicates is full of summer flavors, bursting with citrusy freshness and juicy hops. Definitely, a must-try if you visit the Gaffel am Dom. It is the closest to a craft beer style in a traditional Brauhaus in Cologne.

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We had a delightful evening at the Gaffel am Dom – loved the food and the ambience. This is a place worth visiting for that authentic Kölner experience.

The night was still young and we headed over to the Metronom, a jazz bar. It’s a tiny place but a bar that plays some wonderful jazz music and serves an authentic Guinness on tap. It had been ages since we’d had a genuine pint of Guinness and were so happy to find one, of all the places in Germany.

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Metronom is a small place filled with locals and tourists. It gets crammed easily as it’s a small bar but just get there early and you can get a spot close to the bar. When we had visited, they had run into some trouble with the live music shows creating too much noise for the residents in the area and they had stopped the shows. But, we still listened to some great jazz music. They have the most amazing collection of vinyl records!

The next day we visited the Cologne Biermuseum. Although the place isn’t exactly a museum but more a bar with lots of great, old bier steins from all over Deutschland, Austria and other parts of the world. The place has a very cozy feeling to it and we kinda had the whole place to ourselves when we stopped by for some midday refreshments. Now, what’s notable about this place is that they have a huge variety of beers on tap, beers from all around the world and a bigger variety of bottled beers, mostly the traditional variety. The majority of the tap beers are Bocks and these are some pretty amazing bocks. We’ve had some of our best bocks in all of Germany at this little bar.

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We particularly enjoyed the Urbock, a brilliantly crafted bock, that leaves you wanting more.

If you are a beer fanatic and especially one that loves Bocks, this place should definitely be part of your Cologne beer adventures.

Later that evening, we made our way to the Braustelle microbrewery in Ehrenfeld. These guys have a great set of beers on tap. Of course, they have their own Kölsch – the Helios. It’s one of the best Kölschs we had in all of Cologne. Braustelle has a great set of craft beers to suit all sorts of palettes. We weren’t too fond of their fruity Pink Panther ale but loved some of their stouts. They are always brewing new stuff and you’ll find their menu changing ever so often. It’s a great place where the craft beer loving locals get together. A must-visit if you are a beer enthusiast.

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The Helios

The next day we did a short trip to Bonn. It’s a university town that’s possibly most famous for being the birthplace of Beethoven and home to the United Nations German HQ. Incidentally, it’s where Steve worked while he lived in Bonn several years ago. More about Bonn in a separate post. On to the beers in Bonn – like Cologne they have their own brand of beer called the Bönnsch of course. Interesting point to note: Kölsch and Bönnsch are also what the local dialects are referred to for the respective cities.

While the Kölsch is served in a small glass, the Bönnsch is served in a very unique looking pint glass.

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The lighter (helles in German) beer is their classic, all-time brew – the Bönnsch Natürlich. It’s similar to the Kölsch yet couldn’t be more different. The darker brew you see is their Winter Bock – we quite liked this one! This, of course, is available only during the winter months. The Bönnsch beers are a creation of the Brauhaus Bönnsch which is a fantastic place to grab some delicious local bites and beers.

Later that afternoon, we headed back to Cologne and were quite excited about our evening plans. Not only were we meeting an old friend/roommate of Steve’s after nearly a decade, but were also planning on visiting Cologne’s kick-ass craft beer bar.

We started off the evening at the Päffgen Brauhaus. It’s a traditional beer hall atmosphere and is a fairly large place. They also have a nice winter beer garden that is covered and not too cold. After several rounds of Kölschs and some very tasty local food, we decided to get to the spot we’d been saving for the last.

Craft Beer Corner Coeln is one of the best craft beer bars in Germany. It is mostly filled with local folk who love their craft beers. They have 15 taps on rotation – beers include German and international craft. And they have a whole bunch more by the bottle. It is important to note that when we had visited Cologne in Dec 2016, we were living in Ulm, a small town in South Germany. The craft beer culture at that time was pretty much non-existent and we were always on the hunt for craft beers. [The scene today though is hugely different. More on this in a separate post!] So, essentially, you can imagine the palpable excitement in the air when we walked into this bar to find this mind-blowing collection of beers.

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Today was a Good Day IPA from Pizza Port was just one of the many craft beer gems we discovered that night

It turned out to be a long night of fun conversations over some hoppilicious beers. Also, we got our Pils loving German friend to try out a whole bunch of hoppy ales. Although he didn’t really develop a liking for the ales, he did enjoy the stouts quite a bit.

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They have a cool wall displaying the different beer styles and sub-styles. What you’re seeing in this pic is barely half of that wall!

If you are a serious beer drinker and find yourself in and around Cologne, you should definitely visit the Craft Beer Corner. It is one of the very few places in Germany where you get such a varied and huge collection of craft beers. We promise you, you will feel like you’ve finally come home at Craft Beer Corner Coeln. And, if you’re an IPA lover, you will be in hop heaven with their horde of great IPAs!

And, that’s how we began our Christmas beercation. Next stop Belgium. Stay tuned for our beer adventures in the holy land of beers.

Craft Beer Culture in Regensburg

A little Bavarian city that impressed us not just because of its 2000-year old history but more so because of its amazing craft beer culture.

Despite being an old German city filled with typical, traditional German breweries serving the popular German beer styles like the pils and weizens, there are a few good craft beer bars and an annual craft beer festival that gave us the wonderful feeling that this city is embracing the craft beer revolution with wide open arms unlike a lot of the other bigger Bavarian cities.

It was absolutely delightful to see the locals, especially the elder locals enjoying their craft beer! Now, that is a sight that brings us much joy because it shows that this fatherland of beers is slowly letting go of the rigidity with their traditional beer choices and are open to trying out the new, bolder, better styles that craft brewing offers.

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If you are planning to visit Regensburg, we highly recommend you visit around the same time as their annual craft beer festival that usually takes place in May. The Craft Bier Festival Regensburg runs for 3 days and not only has a whole bunch of German and international craft breweries offering their best brews on tap, but it also includes some very cool live music shows.

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The craft beer festival is a fun, family-friendly event! And, if you like your beer, you will not be disappointed with the choices you will have. We found that the Regensburg craft beer festival was much better organized, more fun and included a better variety and quality of German craft brews compared to the Munich craft beer festival. And, even though it attracts some large crowds, it’s out in the open with plenty of space for you to  move around or find a cozy corner to enjoy your brews. If you feel like socialising, you might just find like-minded beer enthusiasts. And, if you’re as lucky as us, you may just make some wonderful beer friends!

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Here are some of the German breweries to look out for if you’re at the beer fest or if you can get your hands on German craft beer.

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The Aventinus Eisbock tops our list of most loved German beers. Schneider Weisse specialises in wheat beers and bocks, the only German traditional beer styles we really enjoy.
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The Pirate Brew Berlin brews some mean porters
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The RavenKraft brewery is worth a try. Their Black IPA although not a typical black IPA but more a Tripel, is still a great brew.
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The Rhaner brewery offers a great variety of styles and are worth checking out as well.

Now, don’t be dismayed if you’re unable to visit Regensburg during the craft beer festival days as there’s an excellent craft beer bar, right in the heart of the city.

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The Birretta Bier Bar is your go-to place for good beer! They have a huge collection of German and international craft beers, 20 or so on tap and plenty more by bottle. It’s a cozy little place with a great ambience. What seals this sweet deal is their fun live music.

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The guys on stage are some seriously talented musicians. The New Oak Regensburg is a local band of two Americans and one German. They play some mind-blowing folk music and are a friendly bunch of guys. They play every Thursday at the Birretta.

If you need other beer options or want to check out the traditional German beer places or simply try great local food, here are a few other suggestions:

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Jacob’s Weissbier at the Wurstkuchl is simply delicious! And the sausages at this historical sausage kitchen is a must-try!
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The Regensburger Weissbrauhaus offers some lip-smacking local food. The Weizens are okay, not as full-bodied and flavorful as we prefer.

There’s a whole bunch of good beer to drink in Regensburg and we were impressed with the spirit the city shows in breaking away from its longstanding beer traditions.

Even though Regensburg is one of Germany’s oldest cities that puts in a great deal of effort in preserving its history and culture, it is also a remarkably ‘young’ city embracing the craft beer revolution with unbridled enthusiasm! It is cities like these that will help Germany plough ahead with stronger strides in the craft beer movement.

Prost to the Reinheitsgebot

Over 500 years ago, today in 1516, the ‘German Beer Purity Law’ or ‘Reinheitsgebot’ was established.

If you are a beer geek, you probably know what this means. But, for the benefit of the other beer lovers.. the Germans established regulations for what ingredients can be used for a drink to be categorized as ‘Beer’. The ingredients were limited to the absolute essentials – water, hops, and barley. This law was first adopted in Bavaria, the heart of the German beer land and was then pushed for adoption across the rest of the country. April 23rd is celebrated as the Day of German Beer or National Beer Day across Deutschland.

In Germany, beer is generally synonymous with Lager . When you walk into a traditional German brewhouse and order for a beer, you will be served one of their lager styled beers – it could be a Helles (pale lager) or a Dunkel (dark lager). The Helles is your typical Pilsner, a heavily hopped lager. Not being huge fans of the Pils style, we generally drink a Pils in the absence of other options. It is the predominant beer style in the Oktberfests. Also, why we are not huge fans of the much renowned German Oktoberfests. Ironically, apart from the beer, it’s still a worthwhile Bavarian cultural experience to share with family and friends.

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Fun times at the Munich Oktoberfest

Another German style of lager that we actually enjoy quite a bit is the Bock. The Bock is stronger, hoppier, and maltier than the Pils and there’s a ton of good bocks brewed across Germany. Here are two of our favorite bocks.

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Paulaner Salvator Doppelbock
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Andechs Doppelbock

Märzen is another German lager style – it is a seasonal lager that derives its name from the fact that it is brewed in March (März in German). The style was created out of necessity rather than experimentation and is characterized by strong hops that helped preserve the flavor during the subsequent six months when brewing was forbidden. If you happen to be in Germany between March and October, you will typically be served a Märzen when you ask for a beer.

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A delicious Märzen from the Hofbrauhaus Berchtesgaden

Another interesting German lager style is the Kölsch. This is not necessarily a different style but just creative branding by the Cologne brewers. If you ever visit Cologne, you will find that the local beer is called a Kölsch – it really is just your pils with a different name in Köln (German for Cologne). The Kölsch however is served in small glasses.

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There are plenty of good Kölschs in Cologne – the Gaffel Kölsch is one of our favorites

Although one might not expect it, the Weizens (wheat beers) did not conform to the original German Beer Purity Law. The law was updated a few decades later to allow for the addition of wheat, the primary ingredient of Weissbiers. Also, interestingly, at the time of the implementation of the beer purity law, the beers were not fermented by the deliberate addition of yeast – this also happens to be a late addition to the purity law. Being ale lovers, our most preferred traditional German beer style is the Weizen (also sometimes referred to as Hefeweizen). This type of beer is very distinctively German and you’ll find that the flavor is unmatched. We’ve tried a good many Weizens and we highly recommend the Schneider Weisse. These guys specialize in wheat beers and their collection includes a variety of interesting international styles as well making them a great traditional and craft brewery. They have an excellent wheat doppelbock (Mein Aventinus Tap 6) which is one of our all-time favorite German beers.

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Schneider Weisse Tap 7 Original – the only one of their beers that’s available in the German supermarkets
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Paulaner Weissbier – one of the very few big commercial beer companies that deserves every bit of the hype and fame it recieves
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Augustiner Weissbier – another big Bavarian brewery that is held in high esteem by the locals
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Hacker Pschorr Weisse – another delicious Bavarian wheat beer
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Franziskaner Dunkel Weissbier and Weissbier – easily found in supermarkets but not to be dismissed lightly

While the Beer Purity Law served its purpose during its times, it unfortunately held back German brewers from bringing in innovation and creativity to the brewing process which left them straggling behind when the craft beer revolution gained momentum. However, slowly and steadily the German brewing industry is gaining ground in the craft beer space with brewers, public and politicians recognizing the need to adapt to evolving beer styles whilst preserving tradition and continuing to use the well-established processes for brewing good beer.

Today, as Germany celebrates the declaration of the Reinheitsgebot, which firmly established Germany as the master brewers of their times… there’s also unabashed excitement in shaping the craft brewing culture in the hope that Germany would once again be the forerunners in defining good beer.

(Being craft beer fanatics, we have scoured the smallest corners of this traditional brewing country in search of craft beer and have successfully discovered some excellent craft beer haunts. New post on our most loved German craft beers coming soon!)