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.

Barfüßer die Hausbrauerei

A cozy little beer hall where we began our beer journey in Ulm.

Barfüßer is one of the best places in Ulm to get great local food and beer. You’ll find one of their pubs diagonally opposite the Rathaus or town hall. This branch in Ulm is a sprightly new place and hardly the traditional beer hall we used to visit when we moved to Ulm. The old one is round the corner from the Ulm Münster. They must have shut it down when they opened the new one though. If it is still open, you should go in, at least to grab a beer and take a peek at their walls. They have some of the most wonderful paintings from a bygone era. Many an evening were spent in this old beer pub in the company of good beers and good friends.

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If you’re visiting Ulm during spring or summer, head over to Barfüßer’s beer gardens in Neu Ulm. They have two of them. The Barfüßer Biergarten Neu-Ulm is huge, kid-friendly and by the Danube river. The Barfüßer Biergarten im Glacis is a sprawling biergarten with great live music throughout the summer and early fall months. We, unfortunately, didn’t get to do this last summer and well, this summer, we moved out of Ulm.

You’ll find an interesting range of beers at Barfüßer. They have their traditional beers – a light and dark lager, and a delicious weizen.

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And, they now have a few craft beers – by the bottle and by tap. They don’t brew any of these themselves but make them available in collaboration with other craft brewers in the south of Germany.

When we moved to Ulm in Jan 2016, there were no craft beers being served or sold anywhere. There was just Schlössle in Neu Ulm. Anyhow, in about 6 months, we started to see Ulm’s only craft brewery launch their beers. I think we saw Urban Monk for the first time at the Lichterserenade (one of the most gorgeous light festivals we’ve seen) in July 2016. These guys brew in the Barfüßer premises in Neu Ulm and their beers are available in all Barfüßer branches.

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Although they’ve got a long way to go with perfecting their craft beers, we are still impressed with them. It sure isn’t easy trying to establish yourself as a craft brewery in the fatherland of traditional lagers that have been brewed for centuries and is still stubbornly the only beer of choice with the locals. And, bet it’s even harder trying to do this from a small town. But they’re doing a great job marketing their beers and are at nearly every beer fest that takes place in the south of Germany. They have a decent collection of beers – we preferred their Sunshine Ale.

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Just as we were leaving Ulm a few weeks ago, the new Barfüßer pub near the Rathaus, started to serve a couple of Camba beers on tap. Camba, IOHO, is one of Germany’s best craft breweries and they have an amazing variety of beers promising to send you straight to hopheaven! So, you can imagine our insane delight at finding these on tap in Ulm. Maybe the beer gods decided to give us a parting gift!?

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What was even more exciting was that this little town finally had a beer flight. You’ll rarely ever find that in a traditional German beer pub!

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It was simply amazing for us to see the transformation in the beer culture of this little town. And to see locals, young and old enjoying a craft beer sampler set – just delightful!

Germany needs more traditional breweries like Barfüßer to open their doors to brewers experimenting with radical flavors.

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Here’s to hoping that Germany continues to enjoy its great traditional beer styles but embraces the craft beer rage sooner than later!

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.