Germany: Dusseldorf beer walking tour - tasting the local brew

I'm so comfortable dozing in the late afternoon sunshine on a bench in Düsseldorf's Burgplatz, overlooked by the graceful white Schlossturm tower, that I almost miss the start of my beer walking tour.

And we can't have that. Nowhere does beer better than Germany, and no one is prouder of their local brew than the citizens of Düsseldorf.

Led by guide Jörn, our Altbier Safari group will visit five small breweries that make the top-fermented altbier ("old beer") distinctive to the city. Remarkably, four of these establishments date back to the mid-19th century.

Walking into the Old Town we cross a narrow channel, which Jörn tells us is the final stretch of the Düssel River before it enters the Rhine. Then suddenly we're at our first brewery, Brauerei im Füchschen, with a waiter setting up our beers.

I'm impressed with my first sip of the reddish altbier, served in a small 250ml glass. It's flavoursome and bitter, tasting something like an IPA to my jetlag-addled tastebuds. Though the evening is a little chilly we're standing out on the street, enjoying the happy post-work vibe with a crowd of locals.

Jörn is passionate about his subject and tells us we're drinking an unpasteurised beer, which needs to be consumed within eight weeks of bottling. Füchschen, he explains, means little fox, which explains the logo of the brewery – a easily recognisable symbol from the days when many couldn't read.

Next stop is Brauerei Kürzer, where we stand next to big metal vats as our guide talks about the combination of water, malt and hops, the only ingredients allowed in beer under a 16th century law. We also learn the meaning of "top-fermented", an older brewing method in which the yeast rises to the top.

This place produces only 1000 litres a day, just enough for its own patrons.

"So the beer passes just ten metres from the brewery to the glass," says Jörn. "That's very nice."

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The weather is turning and it's spitting rain as we arrive at our third venue, Im Goldenen Kessel. It houses the oldest brewery in town, dating from 1838.

The standard altbier here is 4.6% alcohol, though three times a year it produces a special seasonal "Latzenbier" that's up to 6% alcohol. While glancing at a menu I notice the prices for the first time – €2.20 per glass seems very reasonable, especially given its small-scale local origin.

The Hausbrauerei Zum Schlüssel is a short walk away, which is fortunate as I've now had three beers (though small ones). Beyond Jörn I can see a man in a large hat holding a pikestaff, presumably another tour guide leading tourists on a history walk. Or perhaps that's just the beer talking.

We're on Bolkerstrasse now, part of the so-called "longest bar in the world." All the bars here were once connected by internal doors, so patrons could walk from one to another without going outside.

Our last stop is Uerige, just past the Town Hall. Its name is an old word for "grumpy", apparently a nod to the ill-tempered 1862 founder. Perhaps fittingly, the most bitter brew of our tour is served here.

It's pelting down with rain now, but we're seated under a big umbrella with a final excellent beer in our hands. Something I'm not bitter about at all.

TRIP NOTES

FLY

Emirates flies to Düsseldorf via Dubai, see www.emirates.com 

STAY

Me And All is a stylish hotel with a cool art-filled lobby and attractive top-floor bar, with rooms from €109 a night. See duesseldorf.meandallhotels.com

TOUR

The nightly Altbier Safari tour costs €27.50 per person. See www.altbier-safari.de 

MORE

www.traveller.com.au/germany 

www.duesseldorf-tourismus.de 

Tim Richards travelled courtesy of the German National Tourist Board.

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