James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Like a Sloppy Halloween in New York City, But with Better Beer

Photo by: Bernt Rostad

Like a Sloppy Halloween in New York City, But with Better Beer

Altbier in Düsseldorf

Before traveling to Düsseldorf for Karneval, all that my best friend, Cam, told me to prepare was enough colorful outfits to carry me through a week of anarchic partying. Having never experienced Karneval ourselves, we planned for bright colors and loud patterns in the style of the Brazilian or Caribbean tradition.

Walking around Düsseldorf’s Altstadt, decked out in our disco-ball best, we were instead thrown into a sea of S.W.A.T. uniforms, Top Gun aviation jumpsuits, animal onesie pajamas, and an unbelievable number of banana-peel suits. In many ways, the amount of cheap alcohol and store-bought costumes seemed no different than a sloppy New York City Halloween, except here I had no idea what to drink or how to order it.

What I wanted didn’t matter, though, because this is an Altbier city.

The pride and joy of Düsseldorf (and the rival of Cologne’s Kölsch beer), Altbier’s top-fermented, traditional brewing process makes it a rare find anywhere else. The whole trip I was assured by Germans and Americans alike that this was what I had to have: forget any excitement for “German beer” and just have Altbier.

Like everywhere else during Karneval, our chosen Altbier brewery, Kürzer, was so overrun with banana-garbed partygoers that there seemed to be no end or beginning to the line. Instead, there was just the standard 200-milliliter (just under one cup) glasses of Altbier flying out of servers’ hands to the sounds of Schlager—poppy, repetitive party music with lyrics Cam could only translate as “about drinking.”

I thought that when the music changed to the painfully familiar “Macarena” I was finally in my element, that I could transcend the language barrier and navigate the chaotic environment for a spot—and, more importantly, a drink—at the bar. But it was not to be.

We returned to Kürzer during daylight hours, determined to enjoy the home-brewed specialty this time around. We felt like we had entered a whole new bar. Schlager had been replaced with The Rolling Stones, Top Gun uniforms with jeans, and disorder with lively chatter. A server made the rounds instead, leaving tally marks on a coaster to track the group tab. The smooth, malty finish and small glasses make Altbier easy to whiz through, and by the end of the night our coaster looked more like a sundial than a placemat. Splitting the tab was only possible because everyone got the same thing—except our sole German friend, who had long moved on from Altbier to Pilsner, but assured us he still had his banana-peel costume ready to go for later.

Brauerei Kürzer
Kurze Str. 20, 40213
Düsseldorf, Germany

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