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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

One Beer to Rule Them All

COLOGNE. Superficially, the idea that in Düsseldorf they drink alt and kolsch in Cologne seems like a reasonable one. (And never the twain shall meet. Turns out there's a HUGE--albeit good-natured--rivalry between the cities. In Düsseldorf, you don't mention kolsch; at Reissdorf Brauerei in Cologne they wouldn't mention Düsseldorf. Each city has its fiefdom, and the breweries guard the boarderlands like vigilant soldiers.) But if you think about it longer than three minutes, the concept is insane. We live in a market economy; new is exalted, variety demanded. Yet walk into one of the atmospheric pubs here, and you have a binary choice: yes or no. The drink is kolsch and your communication to the waiter only involves a welcoming or abjuring cock of the head.

This is remarkable. I visited Reissdorf today, and was staggered to consider that not only does the brewery sell nearly its entire production to people living within 50 kilometers of the brewery, but it has to--outside Cologne, people don't drink it. The beers actually vary noticeably brewery to brewery, but there's no local rivalries, no tub thumping for the "true" or "original" kolsch. You walk in, pay your euros 1.80, get your elegant little stange glass of kolsch, and the waiter keeps a tick-mark tally on your beer mat. Breweries make one beer, and customers drink one beer--but only here. How is it that no brewery has tried to sell imperial kolsch or Westphalian Dark Ale or ... anything? (Leave aside the politics of kolsch and the konvention for just a moment.) Anywhere else, and that would be a given.

Instead, there is a virtuous symbiosis. The little glasses come, the gently malty, crisp, and delicately spicy/floral hopping--absolutely ideal with bratwurst--continues to enliven the palate. The glasses hold only .2 liters (less than 7 ounces), and the beer less than 5% alcohol, so you never think one more is too dangerous. The trouble is ever leaving the pub.

Reissdorf outgrew its urban brewery and expanded.

A fresh beer and a new tick mark. 


  1. I often think that some beer geeks must experience genuine discomfort at the very concept of a place with only one beer. But if the single beer is good, why not? Guaranteed fresh beer, with the barrels emptying fast because everyone is drinking the same thing, seems like a very good model to me.

    The devotion to Kölsch in the city is quite remarkable. When a few years ago, one of the city’s breweries started making Pils, it was front page news in one of the more excitable newspapers. The fact that the same brewery made Pils well into the 1960s before going all-Kölsch has been conveniently erased from history.

  2. Amazing. You gotta love the beer treatment there...those damn Krauts. What a great experience. Wish I was there. Cheers!

  3. Gerrit (@geo21481)10:33 AM, October 17, 2012

    You do know about Braustelle in Köln-Ehrenfeld, don't you? They haven't made an imperial Kölsch (I have a hard time imagining that at any rate) or anything, but they do have a regular summer beer brewed with Reinheitsgebot-defying hibiscus flowers -- and I believe a subversive (for Cologne) Alt as well. They also put on the best beer festival in Germany, imho.

  4. _Kölsch_
    A significant number of Colorado breweries produce Kölsch ale. Kölsch is easily found in a craft oriented liquor store. In a taproom, Kölsch is as likely as golden ale.

    I attribute this to Colorado semi-arid or alpine climate. A crisp, clean, thirst quenching malt beverage without the expense of lagering.

    _200 ml serving size_
    The 6.8 oz serving size catch my attention.
    - a Boulder beer memorabilia colector has several small 19th century beer bottles marked: 'contents 6 1/2 oz'
    - a Jan 1882 Boulder newspaper 'Local Items' revealed the serving size of the local braumeisters' proverbial nickel [5¢] beer to be 7.5 ounce.

    The connection between 21st century EU measures and 19th century immigrant brewers is thin; but, it appears pints and half pints were not always the standard.

  5. Something tells me that the concept of a pub/brewery with only one beer on offer, placing the focus on the social atmosphere and not any discussion of beer, would strike a cold-sweat fear in the hearts of the average American beer geek. Can't imagine it ever working here. Just a cultural difference, I guess.

    The Kolsch in Cologne and the Alt in Dusseldorf, and the atmosphere in the places there just awesome and a highlight of my visits there years ago before beer became a big interest in my life.

  6. @Anonymous

    Trumer Brauerei-Berkeley only produces the German-style Pils of the original Trumer near Salzburg, Austria. They started brewing at the former Golden Pacific Brewery in 2004, and haven't stopped growing since, so such a thing does work here in the states.

  7. Jack: Kölsch is actually lagered -- that's why it's so clean and ...well... lager-like!

  8. You can find the odd American brewery doing a single beer. Finding a pub or brewpub with a single lonely tap, though - not so much. It's not unique to Cologne or Düsseldorf, either. I can name more than a few places in Franconia that serve the single house beer, fresh from the keg, and that's it for the beer. Or, for even better examples, try the classic Zoiglstub'n of the Oberpfalz - again, a single lonely tap serving the one house beer, but when that one beer is so spot-on as so many of them are, there is no interest or desire in anything else, really. Favorite personal examples: Loistl in Windischeschenbach, with strong points also given to Beim Gloser in the same town, and Oppl in Mitterteich.

  9. Don, it's not so much the breweries (though even that is rare), it's that with one exception ALL the breweries brew the same style, that style has near complete control of te local market, and the style isn't really available 50 kilometers or more from the brewery. That's wild stuff.