Beer and Food in Cologne
Beer in Cologne is not just beer. At least that’s what all the guidebooks say. In fact, it’s both true and not true at the same time. Let me explain.
First the history, then the taste. The beer brewed here is called Kölsch. It is a Protected Regional Beer. It is protected under EU law. That is, if only beer brewed in Cologne and the surrounding area can be called Kölsch. There is also the Convention Kölsch, which was signed by 24 local breweries in 1986. This document describes exactly what kind of beer has the right to be called a Kölsch.
Do not pay attention to the date of the convention, and the recipe and traditions are very, very medieval. It is just that the brewers were concerned about protecting their privileges only recently. In general, the local breweries used to be so powerful organizations that the unions appointed the mayor and council members and judges.
So you can really only taste kölsh in Cologne. Everyone else was forbidden to make such a drink and call it that.
About the taste and the color
With the legal and historical sides of the case seemingly everything is clear. You can’t and you can’t! But if you are not an expert, but a simple traveler, can you distinguish a beer brewed in Berlin or Frankfurt from a similar one brewed in Cologne?
My answer, as not a big expert and not a gourmet – yes, you can. The beer in Cologne is special. And here’s why…
Kelsch is served in glasses with the volume of only 0.2 liter (“stange” Stange, aka Fingerhut or Reagenzglas).
Such volume is explained by the fact that one has to drink kelsch only at a certain temperature, 8-10 degrees (the ideal temperature). And if the container was bigger, the beer would have time to get hotter than allowed and the foam would settle, and this would be bad, all the originality of taste and flavor would immediately disappear.
|One of the most popular establishments|
Traditionally, beer is served without asking. As soon as Kobesse (kebesse – so called the waiter serving a drink) will see that your bar is empty or almost empty, he immediately brings a new portion (do not think that someone will forget how much you drank, each time the waiter makes a pencil mark on your bardekle). They serve cups in special trays called Kranz Kölsch. To give the waiter a sign, you have to put the bierdeckel (beer glass holder) on top of the glass.
What about the taste?
The taste is special, too. Kölsch is an ale. If you think that lagers are light beers and ales are dark beers, you are mistaken and Kölsch is a good example of that.
It’s light, but it’s a top-fermented beer. Like other ales, ours is older, stronger, and has a richer flavor and aroma than lager (which you and I are probably more used to drinking). In the end, it’s the same drink (well, almost) with a rich history and tradition that made Cologne what it is now and was for centuries. City-forming drink, nothing more or less.
Where to drink Kölsch
In fact, there are brown houses, one older than the other, in almost every corner of the city. But not all of them are equally interesting. The fact is that the more tourists in the pub, the less attention can be paid to tradition, the less the atmosphere, and you can’t go everywhere.
I can recommend the following places:
The first place I visited and the most atmospheric. Despite the fact that it was still far before noon, it was full of visitors, noisy and somehow German. Tasty kölsch, tasty sausages and is located far from the city center. The price of a beer is 1.8 euros for a 0.2 cup.
Früh am Dom*.
One of the most visited and famous beer houses in the city. In the evening do not even try to find a free place, despite the 1900 seats. Worth a visit for the interior and the atmosphere. Fruch Kelsch didn’t seem too bright. Not surprising, since it’s a pretty big production, as it turned out.
|The interior of Früh am Dom|
Gaffel am Dom.
This beer garden is located in a historic downtown building, and Gaffel has been brewing for over 100 years. Don’t be surprised that it’s packed in the evenings, and the prices match the popularity, too. Very atmospheric. By the way, at least one mouse lives here. I did not have time to take a picture, but I saw very well. Apparently the mouse is also part of the story.
|In Gaffel is a tight fit.|
*am Dom – near the cathedral.
Located far from the center and a glass of kelsch here costs not 1.8 euros, but 1.5, which in itself is already a savings. And if you assume that 200 liters of beer is not enough and you want a snack, it will seem that everything is very cheap after the prices in the pompous bauhaus. They serve Sion beer. Among all the kelsh Sion seemed the most pleasant in taste and aroma. I recommend to try it. You can not here, but in the “native” Brouwhaus.
If you’re not in town for long, which is probably the case, it’s unlikely you’ll have time to try all 24 types of kelsch. My advice would be to visit…. supermarket and buy 3-4 bottles of different kelsch in addition to what is poured in the bars. In the market they will sell you a standard 0.5 liter bottle, and at a price of 0.7 to 1 euro. Which is a little cheaper (10 times cheaper) than the cost in the pub.
But to visit a historic pub is strictly necessary, it’s part of the culture, it’s the soul of the city!
Of course, there are more than four beer-halls in the city, but I could not manage it all, there will be room for you to discover. Map of the described establishments:
Traditional Food in Cologne.
Yes, it has its own cuisine. Well, almost its own, well almost there is. But you can find a couple of local specialties. Looking ahead, I can’t say that everything is very original, but still there is a twist.
Kölsche Kaviar – “Cologne caviar” is basically sausage with fried onions. Tried it, a one time dish.
Himmelun Ääd – another Cologne “blood sausage”, served with onions and apple-potato puree (translates to “heaven and earth”).
Halve Hahn is a bread in cheese and butter. That is, a sandwich. Apparently some special recipe.
Haxe mit Sauerkraut und Kartoffelpüree – roast pork with cabbage. Really very tasty, but I think I ate the same thing in other German cities. And no, I don’t think so, I even ate the same thing in the Czech Republic. That’s all, really.
|Meat, potatoes, cabbage, plate… Simple and delicious.|
All other dishes are common German, if you can say so, of course. But this does not mean that the sausages tasted here will be worse than the Berlin or Munich ones.
If you arrive early in the morning or will be leaving when everything is closed, pay attention to the BackWerk chain of cafes. They are open from 5:30 a.m., make great coffee in huge cups, and sell inexpensive pastries and sandwiches. And most importantly, there are 17 of them in the city (see map). Except they only take cash, you can’t pay with a card.
|That’s how it is.|
The taste of Cologne is quite interesting. You may think of it as kölsch™ and fried sausages and roast pork and kölsch again…
Or it could happen that the taste of (the biggest possible) cup of coffee and crispy pastries will remain in your memory.
So what if you don’t like beer? In Cologne you can often see people with glasses of wine, and the stores sell more than just Kelsch.
But to be in Cologne and not try the local legendary brewery at least 3 breweries I would call an unforgivable omission. After all, the names of beer and city are so similar for a reason. Cologne is a kelsch.
7 local dishes of Cologne and where to try them
7 local dishes of Cologne and where to try them
Video: Anthony Bourdain: Uncharted Lands S07.E08 (61) – Cologne, Germany 2022, September
Cologne’s simple and hearty local cuisine is best served with a cold glass of Kölsch. Yet some of the most popular dishes hide behind flowery menu descriptions that even Germans from outside the city struggle to understand. We explain seven of the most popular local foods and tell you where you can try them.
(Halber Hahn (Ger.) – “half a rooster”)
Spoiler: there is no chicken or meat in this dish. Halve Hahn is nothing more than a simple but very famous traditional sandwich, which can be found in almost all menus of Cologne cookhouses and traditional pubs. It’s a bushy, open-faced rye cone, diluted with butter and topped with thick slices of gouda cheese and raw onions. It’s customary in concoction shops to bring a plate with all the ingredients to customers and you make your own sandwich.
Try it by: Bei d’r Tant, Cäcilienstrasse 28, Cologne, Germany, +49 221 2577 360
Ein Beitrag geteilt von Biggi27 () am 5. Sep 2017 um 10:31 Uhr
Himmel un Ääd
(Himmel und Ääd (Ger.) – “Heaven and Earth”)
The name doesn’t give too much away, but it becomes clearer after a brief explanation – the “earth” is mashed potatoes and the “sky” is chunky apple puree. This simple dish is refined with onions, bacon strips and, most importantly, slices of roasted black pudding or Blootwoosch in Kölsch.
Try by: Schreckenskammer, Ursulagartenstraße 11-15, Cologne, Germany, +49 221 1325 81
(Eisbein (Ger.) – salted pork knuckle)
Eisbein is a well-known Oktoberfest favorite, but the dish is also deeply rooted in traditional Cologne cuisine. The regional recipe always uses the hind leg of a pig, which is marinated in brine before being seasoned and cooked in the oven for several hours. It often comes with sauerkraut or roasted potatoes and a mask of hot mustard.
Try: Früh am Dom, Am Hof 12, Cologne, Germany, +49 221 2613 215
Ein Beitrag geteilt von Kirsten Neubauer () am 13. Mai 2016 um 6:25 Uhr
(Mettbrötchen (Ger.) – minced pork bun)
This dish is a favorite time in Cologne, and people eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner or in between. People from outside the area and abroad sometimes shudder when they realize that minced pork is raw. The Halve Hahn meat cousin is essentially a slice of bread or bread hopper with butter, raw ground pork, raw onions and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. If that’s too much for you, look for Kölsche Kaviar, a rye bun with pudding and mustard.
Try: Brauhaus Pütz, Engelbertstr. 67, Cologne, Germany, +49 221 2111 66
(Reibekuchen (Ger.) – potato pancakes)
You’ll find potato pancakes at German Christmas markets, where they’re usually served either plain or with applesauce. Breweries, pubs and traditional restaurants in Cologne often pair pancakes with dark rye bread and salmon. If you want to try this specialty, check the restaurant’s menu before you visit, as most only serve them one day a week.
Try Haus Töller, Weyerstrasse 96, Cologne, Germany, +49 221 2589 316
Ein Beitrag geteilt von Annekathrin Cremer (@ schmitzkatze2309) am 11. Apr 2016 um 22:52 Uhr
(Erbsensuppe (Ger.) – pea soup)
The local variety of pea soup is often a snack during outdoor events, especially during Carnevale festivities when temperatures often remain freezing – pubs, restaurants and food stands sell hearty and warming flour in containers. Vegetarians should double check that the dish contains no pork belly or chunks.
Try Em Kölsche Boor, Eigelstein 121, Cologne, Germany, +49 221 1352 27
(Sauerbraten (Ger.) – marinated and stewed meat)
Traditionally Suurbrode was made with horse meat, but consumption has declined rapidly in recent decades. Today, the dish is often made with beef, although some restaurants still follow the original recipe. This is usually listed on the menu; if not, and you don’t want to eat horse meat, ask the waiter to be sure. Whether horse meat or beef is ready on your plate, it is often accompanied by red cabbage and potato dumplings.
Try: Brauhaus Peffgen, Friesenstrasse 64-66, Cologne, Germany, +49 221 1354 61
Ein Beitrag geteilt von frau.kuchenliebe (@ frau.kuchenliebe) am 16. Sep 2016 um 7:43 Uhr