Until Friday night, our only encounters with altbier had been one bottle of Diebels in London, and a bottle of something else (maybe Gatzweiler?) in Aachen. We’d found it pleasant enough, but not especially remarkable.
Our first 250 millilitres of Uerige Alt came, therefore, as something of a shock. It was intensely bitter — the comparison that sprang to mind was Sam Smith’s Nut Brown Ale, only drier.
The beauty of a beer so dry and bitter is that it simultaneously quenches and intensifies your thirst, and it was hard to say no to the waiter who appeared, as if by magic, with fresh glasses every time ours were nearly empty.
There was standing room only — Duesseldorf isn’t exactly a tourist town, but it’s busy all year round — however, our spot by the bar was fantastic. We watched the impressively moustachioed Bismarck-alike behind the bar filling glass after glass from the wooden barrel, each one nothing but two-thirds of foam at first, but settling out into a perfect serving, brown at the bottom and cream at the top, every time.
He didn’t stop except to prop the barrel on a piece of wood when it reached the end. The space behind the bar was his — no-one else dared invade it. The glass-washer stood on the other side with the customers, dunking and rinsing glasses as frantically as the barman could fill them.
So, we were off to a good start. As we walked back to our hotel, we noticed something we’d never seen in Germany before: people in the streets being ever so slightly drunk and rowdy. More on that tomorrow.