A 3 Step Guide to Cologne’s Brauhaus Culture
With more pubs and taverns per capita than any other major city in Germany and a famously easy-going population, it’s fair to say Cologne is the perfect destination for a weekend of beer-based antics. Prepare yourself for ‘Stangen’, ‘Köbes’ and ‘Kränze’, with our 3-step guide to the city’s Brauhaus culture. Prost!
Step 1: Take A Lesson in Kölsch at Brauerei Sünner
Before you go wandering into the first shiny Brauhaus that catches your eye, first things first – gain a bit of insider knowledge about Kölsch. There’s no better place to do this than in the brewery where it all began. Located just a 10-minute tram ride from Cologne’s city centre, Sünner Brewery has been producing Kölsch for six generations and is the oldest Kölsch brewery in the world.
Guided tours kick off with a short history lesson that covers the story of how the brewery was founded in 1830 and the all-important origins of the Kölsch name (the term was first officially used in 1918 to refer to the type of top-fermented beer that was being brewed by Sünner since 1906). Afterwards, they’ll talk you through the finer points of the fermentation process.
Next, it’s on to the distillery where Sünner produces its own brand of dry gin and Cologne’s only vodka. There’s just enough time to take a peek at the open fermentation area (a room filled with what look like giant foaming bubble baths of beer) and a look at the brewery’s range of lemonades before ending the tour in the historic vaults where you can raise a glass of Kölsch and dig into some traditional Brauhaus grub. If you’re visiting in the summer, take advantage of Sünner’s beer garden and soak up some sunshine while you sink a few cold ones.
Sünner’s restaurant and beer-garden is open daily from 4 p.m. Guided tours cost €9.80 per person and include a free glass of Kölsch. See Sünner’s website for further information/booking details.
Step 2: Enter the Brauhaus
As a newly-minted Kölsch expert, you’re ready to be let loose on the breweries of the city centre. Most of these are located between the Cathedral, the old City Hall and close to the Rhine promenades. Head to the following three for starters…
Hellers is based in the lively Kwartier Latäng area of the city. It’s a cosy Brauhaus that’s been producing its eco-friendly, organic brand of Kölsh since 1997. A fully-heated winter garden makes it an extremely popular venue for dinner at the weekends so advanced booking is advised if you’re looking to make a night of it.
Hellers Brauhaus, Roonstrasse 33, Cologne
Früh am Dom
Früh am Dom is something of a Cologne institution. This meandering labyrinth of a Brauhaus is just a short walk from Cologne Cathedral and is celebrating its 111th year in the city. Although the “Früh” name (German for ‘early’) refers to its brand of Kölsch, its early opening hours (8am, 7-days a week) makes this a good option if you’re in need of the hair of the dog or planning to start your Kölsch-crawl at the break of dawn.
Früh am Dom, Am Hof 12, Cologne
Such is the popularity of this place that you’ll rub shoulders with both tourists and locals here. A word of warning though, Peter’s Brauhaus gets crowded at the weekends so if you’re looking to try some of their excellent traditional food or sup a Kölsch in less hectic surroundings, your best bet is to visit during the afternoon or on a weekday.
Peter’s Brauhaus, Mühlengasse 1, Cologne
Step 3: Crack the Speisekarte
When it comes to the Speisekarte (menu), all is not what it seems. In the Brauhaus they like to have fun with naming their dishes. You might be drooling at the thoughts of tucking into a juicy “Halve Hahn” (half chicken) but end up sorely disappointed to find you’ve ordered a rye bread roll with a side of Dutch cheese and mustard. The same goes for Kolscher Kaviar. It’s not the high-end treat you’d imagine, but rather a chunk of black pudding slathered with mustard in a bread roll. Himmel und Äd is another bizarrely named, but delicious Brauhaus staple. The dish consists of black pudding, fried onions, mashed potato and apple sauce. It’s been around since the 18th century and its name refers to apples from the trees (the sky/heaven) and potatoes from the ground (earth). If you’re going the super-traditional route, you can’t go wrong with Rheinisch Sauerbraten – beef soaked in vinegar with potato dumplings and lingonberry gravy.
Know Before you Go: Brauhaus Etiquette
- The glasses: Kölsch is always served in tall, skinny 200ml glasses known as ‘Stangen’.
- The waiters: The waiters in the brewery are known as ‘Köbes’ (short for Jacob). They wear a traditional uniform similar to old brewery workers – a blue shirt, black trousers, a blue apron and a leather wallet. Most Köbes also come equipped with a cheeky sense of humour. Wait to be served. It’s considered bad form if you try and call the shots.
- The tray: Your glass of Kölsch will generally arrive in style via a special circular tray known as a ‘Kranz’.
- The barrels: Kölsch is poured directly from small barrels known as Pittermannchen. Only special barmen known as Zappes are allowed to access the barrel.
- The beer mats: Cologne’s breweries are home to some of the hardest working beer mats in the world. Not only do they perform their universal duty of soaking up spills, but here they keep track of every beer that crosses your lips. Each time you’re served a Kölsch, the Köbe will make a mark on your beermat with a pencil. At the end of your drinking session, they’ll count up all of these marks and calculate the total damage. Crucially…the only way to signal that you’re all Kölsch-ed out is to place your beer mat on top of your glass. Otherwise, your Köbe will keep those beers coming indefinitely. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!
Have you visited Cologne recently? Got some advice to share? Leave a comment, we want to hear your tips!