in our current issue
Web Exclusives
High Brau Adventures
Elyse Glickman

"Oktober" and its many fests may arrive sooner than you think, but any month of year is a great time to explore Germany's beer cultures beyond Bavaria when contemplating your beer menu.

In major cities throughout the U.S., the proliferation of gastropubs and microbreweries has influenced everything from fast casual restaurants to fine dining. Some industry insiders point to London as the birthplace of the modern gastropub movement (coined in 1991 when restaurateurs David Eyre and Mike Belben took over The Eagle Pub, merging seemingly dissimilar concepts of informal neighborhood pub and high-end gastronomy destination).


Local beer at Zum Uerige, in Düsseldorf's Old Town.
PHOTO COURTESY OF ZUM UERIGE

Others, however, can argue that trends rooted in Germany beer and food culture have also made an impact. Walk through any neighborhood in Los Angeles or Chicago, and you will be as likely to stumble on "currywurst" restaurants spots and brauhaus-style pubs. U.S. entrepreneurs intent on taking Germany's historic beer legacy beyond Oktoberfest fairs should ideally show their guests  that there are many ways to explore Germany's brewing traditions beyond Southern Germany, the region that most has shaped America's definition of German beer culture.

Each region of Germany has its own beer or pub culture—or, in some cases, lack of it. In Frankfurt, for example, family-owned apfelwein (apple wine, a drier cousin of cider) pubs are a generations-old regional tradition not only strongly promoted among tourists, but embraced by locals as well. Beer sells well in many parts of town, though the context in which it is sold on premise is far more subtle.


In the Rhineland


If you happen to be traveling through Germany, a good place to start is the Rhineland, a few hours' drive or train ride northwest of Frankfurt. Cities Cologne (Köln) and Düsseldorf have as rich a beer culture as Munich's. In fact, one beer style quickly gaining momentum outside of Germany is Kölsch, a light-bodied beer that (in Germany) can only legally be brewed in Cologne.

The Rhine's food and beer culture is nicely reflected at the Hotel Maritim Düsseldorf Airport with an ambiance and restaurant options that set an example for how to put the emphasis on "hotel" rather than "airport." Over lunch at its beer-focused Rheinische Stov, Roy Franke, the hotel's Director of Sales, notes the property takes on a responsibility to Düsseldorf in terms of encouraging business travelers and tourists "passing through" to take the easy 20-minute train ride into town.

"Guests from outside expect local food and beer, so while it is important for us to do our local food well, we also want to stock beers that will work with those foods," says Franke, who details that the beer menu highlights Radeberger Pilsner as well as local favorite Schlösser Alt, Cologne's Dom Kölsch, local dunkel (dark) brews, Schöfferhofer Hefeweizen and alcohol-free brew Vitamalz

"Our tradition dates back to the Middle Ages, when municipalities sold licenses to innkeepers and monasteries to brew their own beer to raise income for the cities," details Franke. "Everybody had their own little brewery in the back yard. This existed for hundreds of years, and it lives on today. Trendier restaurants in Düsseldorf have started using beer to draw the young-adult and female market. It started with basic cocktails combining beer with Coke, energy drinks or lemonade, and from there, getting more complex with fruit juices."

Franke, along with other locals, note the best place for a buyer or pub owner to do research is in the Altstadt, the "old town" section of Düsseldorf. By night, all year round, it becomes one of Europe's ultimate beer gardens, with more than 300 bars to choose from. However, choose your brews carefully. Here are my favorites:

While there's a certain touristy elegance to Zum Uerige (Bergstraße 1) with its mix of dining halls and cozy pub settings, it has several brews on tap including an altbeir, unfiltered, weizen, a hoppy Sticke beer (a fall-only "secret recipe" beer) and a DoppelSticke brewed for the U.S. aficionado market.

PHOTO COURTESY OF ZUM UERIGE

PHOTO COURTESY OF ZUM SCHÜSSEL
Hausbrauerei Zum Schlüssel (Bolkerstrasse 41-47) is an old-school brewpub pairing its regular and seasonal brews with hearty local cuisine. The actual brewery, housed in the tiny basement, is no-frills and flies in the face of the gleaming brewery apparati found in North American brewpubs.
Brauerei Kürze (Kürze Strasse 18-20), located a block off the busy main tourist drag Bolkerstrasse, is small, spare and focused primarily on their sweet, malty altbeir.
 

PHOTO: ELYSE GLICKMAN
 
PHOTO: ELYSE GLICKMAN
Zum Schiffchen (Hafenstraße 5) is also a must. In addition to its earthy, abundant interpretations of Rhineland dishes, it has 380 years of history. The owners mention Napoleon was a patron here and ordered dishes similar to those offered on the current menu.    

Outside of Altstadt, it is interesting to observe how beer finds its way into everything from funky currywurst joints to contemporary restaurants in the Media Harbor area. While Felix Petrucco, executive chef at Dox in the Hyatt Regency Düsseldorf, is not a fan of beer or beer/food pairings, he found a creative way to integrate a local beer syrup into the Mojito-esque "735" cocktail, which commemorates the city's anniversary and symbolically unites old and the new, the city's brewing legacy with contemporary mixology.


Berlin and Beer


There are many brewpubs throughout Berlin that feature familiar German brands, including those available outside Germany. However, most of these seem to be geared more for tourists (evidenced by the use of Bavarian iconography on the signage). Sina Abrecht, General Manager of acclaimed restaurant Volt, affirms a serious connoisseur is more likely to find inspiration at venues operated by innovative restaurateurs and chefs who actively seek out small independent producers.


The Volt dining room.
PHOTO COURTESY OF VOLT

"Berlin used to be more of a beer town, but popular demand is embracing small batch products rather than large products," observes Abrecht, who grew up in southern Germany, where she describes every town having their own "gastropub"-like breweries with foods that paired specifically with their beers.

"It is important to us that the beer we serve is produced by people and not machines," she says, as we sample the seasonal offerings inside Volt, housed in a former power plant that is now a noted historic landmark. "The beer needs to be ripened for several weeks rather than days, resulting in a more complex beer that will pair better with the food."

"To go with an industrially produced beer," continues Abrecht, "even one produced in Germany, would contradict our own culinary mission. It's all about supporting local businesses that operate along the same independent lines we do. The beer we serve is produced in small batches for restaurants, and you can only get it at Volt and other restaurants the brewers directly work with. This draws people to Volt, and in turn, and encourages repeat visits."


Frankfurt Brews


Likewise, you can also find beer pubs and beer gardens in Frankfurt, especially in high tourist traffic areas like Römerberg or Sachsenhausen, many venues are more likely to be pouring and pairing their apfelwein with hearty, homespun regional cuisine. Bars we spotted on our trek proffering beer were Irish pubs pouring Guinness and Harp, or gathering places with Heineken prominent in the signage.

Even if apfelwein is the drink of choice in Frankfurt, small bars and restaurants featuring ethnic and contemporary cuisine recognize versatile pilseners, altbier and hefeweizen-style beers from established nationwide German brands such as Radeberger, Bitburger and Oettinger are pair well with a variety of global flavor profiles. High-end hotels, meanwhile, acknowledge locals and foreign visitors actively seek out quality beer, no matter what local custom may dictate.

"The interesting thing is that beer is our top-selling spirit, even if beer culture is not as expressed here as it is in Düsseldorf, Munich or Berlin," explains Markus Ludewig, Food & Beverage Manager at Steigenberger Frankfurter Hof, a historic five-star property. "The international crowd embraces beer over fancy cocktails because of the social way our hotel bar is set up. We carry Bitburger, Radeberger and König Pilsener because they are recognized by Americans who have traveled the world and know their beers."

SCHLÖSSER ALTBIER AT THE STEIGENBERGER FRANKFURTER HOF HOTEL.
PHOTO: ELYSE GLICKMAN


Even with a steady sales flow of Germany's major brands, Ludewig and his team endeavor to further educate local regulars and foreign guests alike on other European beers, particularly those made in artisanal breweries. Every fall, the hotel sets up a fully-enclosed and heated Austrian-style chalet with a pantry kitchen that will offer a spotlighted craft beer along with local and national beers made in Germany. Last year, Austria's Allgauer Buble was highlighted, showing that Germans are just as interested in other beer cultures as we are in theirs.

From a business standpoint, this is cause for a celebration, as it shows that creativity in how beer is marketed has no boundaries.