Dusseldorf is traditionally known as the city where they brew Altbier. There are numerous breweries in the old town area of the city that get packed starting around 7PM. I visited five different spots and of the five, only one was comfortable accepting payment via credit card. A few said they accept cards but require a 100 euro minimum charge, which might as well be cash only. Beers are served in 200ml glasses so while you go through quite a lot of beers, it takes five to drink a full liter.
I started at Uerige first, where I met a Korean woman visiting Germany from Los Angeles and ended up joining me for the rest of the night to chat while we drank. Uerige had one of the more traditional feels of the bunch and also the beer that was the most hoppy/bitter. I had a lovely salad there with my beers. Their Altbier had notes of bitter acorn, notes of cherry, and a lingering bitterness. Though a number of the altbiers we tried were hoppy, they tended towards the bitterness over aroma, letting the malt character shine through.
In most of the breweries they would constantly roll out wooden casks and pour glass after glass of beer. In a few of the more busy spots they seemed to empty a cask in 30 minutes or less. Perhaps it was because it was early but at Uerige they didn’t constantly serve us like they did at some of the others but we still got our beers quickly. My companion enjoyed the altbier at Uerige the most of the bunch. It was a highlight for me as well though I appreciated some others for their more restrained bitterness.
Next on our list was Zum Golden, right up the street, though they were closed that day. We made our way to Zum Schlussel next, where we had the sweetest of the beers with more notes of caramel and molasses and a more creamy head than the others. They seemed to be the biggest space of them all and the restaurant was packed with most tables either occupied or reserved. If you plan to eat with a group at one of these breweries, you should make a reservation or expect a wait.
We set up at Zum Schlussel in a standing area in view of the casks not far from the front door and watched as they filled beer after beer to deliver to the tables around us. We each had two glasses here and moved on to the next spot, Im Golden Kessel, just down the street. There we stood to drink as well and experienced our first constant serving of beer. The beer there was a bit closer to Uerige in flavor and bitterness. The important thing at most of these spots is the beer is so dry that it is easy to drink through glass after glass without issue. Our drinking was occasionally interrupted by the popping sound of a new cask being tapped.
After a few beers we moved on to Kurzer, the newest of the bunch and also the place with the youngest crowd. They used a different sort of cask that was much smaller but had no issues keeping us constantly supplied with beer. I initially got some notes of Indian Curry (masala chai) that thankfully dissipated over time but in general this was not a favorite of mine. We also might have been turned away except the people who reserved the table where we set up did not show up. Here again they required cash to pay for the beers, despite the modern feel.
We moved on to Fuschen, where we stood near the entrance as well. This place was also packed but we settled in a bar area where they were happy to serve us beers. By this point the flavors were all starting to blend together and it was hard to distinguish one from another. We finished our few beers there and moved on to Im Golden Ring that seemed like it was on the ground floor of a hotel. Though they were getting ready to close, they didn’t mind serving us.
This was the first spot that had something other than Altbier on the menu and actually gave you a menu of drinks. We each ordered a larger 400ml pour there. The other tables appeared to be all drinking Weissbier. This was also the one spot that I was able to pay with a credit card. I found their version of Altbier to be quite mellow and also similarly caramel forward.
My experience with the breweries was much enhanced by having someone with me to chat with. The Germans around us didn’t seem to speak any English and also didn’t seem very interested in chatting. Like with Dublin, I could tell that for the visitors to these breweries, drinking is more important than tasting and few people were sipping their small beers. While it was fun to visit a bunch of different breweries, you may find it equally enjoyable to set up in a spot and drink much more there. Just make sure you have cash handy. The standard price per beer was between 2 euro and 2 euro 50 cents, which makes it between 4-5 euros per American pint. 200ml is just under 7 ounces so two beers is slightly less than an American pint.
In case you have your fill of Altbier and decide you want something different, you can find some craft beer either at local shops off the beaten path or even a bar in Old Town area. Holy Craft has a bottle shop in Friedrichtrasse and a bar in the Old Town area of Dusseldorf. I only visited the bottle shop but it is a good spot where you can find various craft beers and also sample German classics like Berliner Weisse and Gose, both slightly sour, though the German varieties are much more yeast forward (like a traditional weisse beer) than we are used to in the US.
Uerige – this was the most complex tasting beer of the bunch.
Fuschen – Lovely traditional feel, and delicious beer.
TIP: Remember to bring cash because most of these spots are Cash Only or have a minimum charge of 100 euro on a card.
Before visiting Munich for Oktoberfest I read a lot about it but nothing seemed to explain the feeling of it. Perhaps that is because most people writing about it had so much to drink that the details are fuzzy. A few specifically admitted that. Still after visiting Oktoberfest for a single 3 hour stretch I think I got a pretty good feel for it. I also wanted to provide some perspective from someone who expected to hate the beers and the extra benefit of a husband who I thought would be so miserable that he would make me leave early. He only drinks dark beer at home.
The awesome part about Oktoberfest is that they don’t charge admission. Which means there are no lines to get in just a constant stream of people migrating from the nearby train stations into the festival area. Imagine your county fair (San Diego County Fair feels pretty similar) without those annoying lines to get in or trying to park (or paying to park). If you are staying anywhere within the s-bahn lines it is a simple matter of transferring at the central station and taking one of the few trains to the right stop and walking in.
It really makes you wonder why more festivals don’t simply do away with entrance fees (and further makes me wish San Diego had decent public transit that connected all the different neighborhoods as well as Munich does). Once inside it is like any other festival. You have booths just selling food, others just selling souvenirs, carnival rides, (you have to be pretty drunk to think getting on these is a good idea considering how large the drinks are) and then the main attraction–the massive beer tents. There are tents for most of the major breweries around town and all but one require you to be seated to order a beer. This seemed stupid at first but then I realized how heavy the massive beer mugs are while empty let alone full.
Because I hate tourist traps I purposefully avoided going to the rowdy tents that are frequented by foreigners. This meant going straight for Augustiner (the tent most frequented by locals). I arrived at 11am or so and at first I thought we got there too early. Then I realized there are only about a third of the seats available for people to simply walk to and sit down. The rest are reserved far in advance. I wanted to sit at a table that already had people. My husband insisted we grab an empty table. This was good because we invited the first group of English speakers to join us. As much as I like Germans, festivals are no fun without conversation in your own language. And my German is horrible.
Even Augustiner has English menus. Right away I ordered a liter of the festival beer and my husband ordered a liter of the radler (also similar to a shandy), half festival beer and half sprite. He enjoyed the radler. We also ordered a pork knuckle. Thank God they didn’t make us order two. Those things are huge. Soon after our food arrived we saw a group of Americans about to sit at a table across from us. We invited them to join us and they did so gladly. We recommended the pork knuckle and they ordered a round of beer.
The beers were a whole 10 euros a liter, more expensive than the prices in town but it is a markup I gladly pay to avoid having to buy a ticket to get inside. The food wasn’t too expensive compared to the rest of the city. Everything is cash only. Many things were meant to be shared, including whole fish that when you pay by weight end up very expensive. I wasn’t expecting to like the festival beer. It didn’t blow me away or hit some beer pleasure spot but I didn’t have a problem downing a liter.
The festival beer is basically a 6% helles. Helles is the Bavarian version of a pilsner with less hop bite and more malt. The hops were more obvious when drinking the regular 4.8% helles the following day. Thankfully the malts used don’t taste like too much so it is a very drinkable 6% beer. The German hops are much more subdued so someone who doesn’t know what they taste like may not notice them at all. What makes the festival beer drinkable is how awesomely fresh it is. And at the Augustiner tent they are pulling it from large wooden casks.
The beer halls are basically massive tents with large wooden picnic tables pushed really close together so you can only fit between them on the short sides. As you slowly drink through your liter of beer you start to see how fantastic it is to be sitting at a table. In the three hours I was sitting there I drank one liter of the festival beer and shared a liter of radler with my husband, after he had one on his own. We also are the pork knuckle along with the potatoes it comes with. Pork knuckle has a crispy skin and otherwise is a bunch of delicious tender pork meat around a large bone.
I could have stayed all day but since I only had two days in Munich I left after 3 hours so I could visit some other places. I only was able to stand the full 3 hours because I had some fantastic conversations with the group that joined us. Also as the place filled up the atmosphere became more festive and it was certainly contagious. As you can see in the photos I didn’t bother buying the festival garb and I don’t think it makes much sense unless you plan to visit Oktoberfest more times in the future.
As a craft beer fan and a hop head the festival beer was surprisingly drinkable. As I will describe in a separate article I found the local helles beer to be quite tasty once I recognized the German hops. Any serious beer drinker should consider visiting Oktoberfest at least once. I don’t recommend drinking five liters like many people did, at least not at festival prices. In smaller bars around town you could get a liter of the local helles for around 6 euro 50, which was a better beer. Meeting with other travellers and bonding over beers is the core draw of the festival unless you like your family enough to travel with them and want to sit for hours with them over beers.
The lack of entrance fee was especially nice because I could simply leave when I had experienced what I wanted without worrying about getting my money’s worth. If you absolutely hate beer you can order other things but you might as well order a radler. Raising your glasses with the music and letting out a triumphant prost with the rest of the room is something you can’t easily replicate. I may not return to Oktoberfest but I won’t soon forget the experience.