(I found this article at http://www.breworld.co.uk/bgbw/lees2.html )


By Graham Lees

German brewer Herbert Enderlein shakes his head at the mere mention of Pilsener and laments that once upon a time no-one drank such beer in his town - only the fruity, hoppy Altbiers which are close German cousins of British ales.

But despite the rising tide of Pilsener, the family-owned Schuhmacher Altbier brewpub in Düsseldorf has enjoyed a 50 per cent increase in output in the past ten years as interest in Altbiers revives.

When the bottom-fermenting lager style of brewing swept across Europe in the late 19th Century, the new technology all but wiped out the old top fermenting methods still used in Britain. But Düsseldorf and Cologne held out - to the delight of many visiting beer drinkers today.

Schuhmacher, on Ost-strasse, is one of four historic Düsseldorf Altbier brewpubs. They are bustling, traditional, spartan taverns with a frenetic drinking pace and loud chatter, punctuated by the rumble of wooden barrels being rolled from the adjoining brewery store to the bar.

The brewpubs are the keepers of the Altbier drinking traditions, but this speciality is brewed by about 14 breweries in the Dusseldorf area, including four other town breweries. The biggest Altbier producer, Diebel, is brewed across the Rhine at Issum and is more widely available across Germany.

Schuhmacher brewer Enderlein has used every inch of space to tease out more capacity to meet demand. Today, he produces about 25,000 barrels a year compared with 16,000 barrels in 1985. Schuhmacher customers empty seven 36-gallon barrels a day, seven days a week - via Thumbolina-like third of a pint cylindrical glasses.

Schuhmacher's main fermentation is in open stainless steel vessels, preferred by Enderlein after the brewery dabbled with closed fermenters. Initial top fermentation at 18-22C lasts three days, followed by a 15 to 20 day maturation period in closed tanks at only 4C when a secondary fermentation takes place. This method is typical for Altbier brewing. But Schumacher also has a rare, so-called Kühlschiff, a one foot deep "tray" about the size of five billiard tables side by side in which the wort is cooled naturally after boiling. Schuhmacher's barley comes from the River Mosel region in southwest Germany - more noted for fruity wines - the whole hops from Hallertau in Bavaria, and the water from a private well.

The other brew pubs - Uerige, Schlüssel, and Füchsen - are in the old town, ten minutes' walk from Schuhmacher's on pedestrianised streets of solid north German neo Gothic architecture.

Each brew pub has its own character but Uerige, on Berger-strasse, is the most earthy and has a large stand up drinking area with a view through plate glass windows into the brewhouse.

The Schlüssel is on Bolker-strasse and also features a glass fronted brewhouse gleaming at customers. The Füchsen, smallest of the four, stands on Ratinger-strasse.

Uerige Altbier is sharp and bitter; Schlüssel has a maltiness tinged with some bitterness and a crisp dry aftertaste; Füchsen's initial sweetness gives way to hoppiness; Schuhmacher is hoppy and

dry with a clean mouth finish. They all have a coppery colour. All four brewpub taverns serve their beer direct from wooden casks.

Three adjoining bars on Liefen-gasse off Mühlen-strasse, offer Düssel, Schlösser and Hannen. Other names to look for are Frankenheimer, Schlösser and Gatzweiler (which also owns Schlüssel).Schuhmacher's sister tavern, the Goldenen Kessel, is also on Bolker-strasse.

Typical food to accompany these beers is roast pork and dumplings and a dark sauce, or thick spicy sausages with bread and mustard.