Friday, September 18, 2015


Following 13 years after I drank altbier in its cradle, Dusseldorf, Germany, this week I squared the circle and got some firsthand experience drinking kölsch in Cologne (Köln), which is a mere hour away. Apparently these two cities are rivals in just about every shape and form, and the debates about who has the better beer style have been raging for centuries. I certainly have my opinion, and am happy to share it with you presently.

What brought me to Köln? The usual – a work-related trip. Yeah, I certainly know that Belgium lurks close by. I’m writing this on my laptop whilst on a train from Köln to Brussels, and we’ll be discussing Belgian beer from the source in future Beer Samizdat posts. Anyway, I’ll admit a little antipathy to the kölsch style. Not that I loathe it or anything – it’s beer, and a relatively distinct style at that – but it sits right at the heart of the clean, dull, “purity law” German beers that do very little for my personal palette. I initially tried the mass-produced versions that are everywhere in this town: Gaffel Kölsch and Reissdorf Kölsch. Neither has much to recommend it, but if you’re an aficionado of the style, you already knew that.

I found myself, after a little RateBeer and BeerAdvocate research, at a cool beer hall called BRAUEREI PAFFGEN. Like most brewers here, they make one beer – a kölsch. It is indisputably better than the larger brands, and the place itself is a bit of a hoot. The waiters carry these circular trays that hold multiple thin kölsch glasses, and they waltz up to the barrel and fill these glasses in unison by turning the tray clockwise until all the glasses are full. Then they head out on their rounds, return with a bunch of empties, and the cycle repeats itself. I found myself concerned for future carpal-tunnel injuries for these fellas.

Kölsch is a beer made to drink repeatedly. Low in alcohol and served in a tiny glass, you get 5-6 refreshing gulps in and then it’s time for another one. BRAUEREI PAFFGEN makes a really good one, and even having had three, I felt like I'd had the alcohol equivalent of maybe a low-ABV bottle of IPA in “the states”. Paffgen’s is spicy and peppery and not at all hard to enjoy. It paired well with the enormous three-quarter-meter bratwust I had, which was an absurd amount of meat to order, and which I couldn’t finish. The place itself was boisterous and fun, w/ the classic German beer hall vibe. An experience.

So yeah, my verdict, without question, is that altbier and Dusseldorf win this pseudo-battle hands-down. Alt is full of malty flavor, it’s distinct enough from other styles to be markedly different, and hey, I liked that arty, olde-world city better than I did Köln, which was fine enough for a medium-sized city; sort of a Boston or an Atlanta-ish vibe if we’re going to go apples-to-apples. My train just crossed into Liege in Belgium. Now the real beercation begins.

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