Mail order beer that works

livingbeer.gifIt used to be that order­ing beer online was more trou­ble than it’s worth, but the peo­ple at Livingbeer.com have man­aged to con­vert us.

More than once, we’ve placed care­ful­ly com­posed orders with rep­utable sup­pli­ers only to find that when the box turned up sev­er­al weeks lat­er, there were bro­ken bot­tles, and that most of the beers we’d asked for were out of stock and had been sub­sti­tut­ed with stuff we could get in our local super­mar­ket.

Livingbeer’s big selec­tion box side­steps at least part of that process – it’s just 48 dif­fer­ent bot­tle-con­di­tioned beers from all over the UK. You don’t pick and choose, you just wait to see what you’re going to get.

So, although it means we’ve got some beers we might not have cho­sen our­selves, open­ing the four mas­sive box­es was like Christ­mas Day. Each bot­tle was like a lit­tle gift to unwrap. We’d heard of about one fifth of the beers in the selec­tion and had only tried a hand­ful before. So, our cel­lar now looks very healthy.

And this time, we didn’t get any bro­ken bot­tles. The beers were very secure­ly wrapped and all were intact.

If you’ve got a hun­dred quid to spare, we hearti­ly rec­om­mend giv­ing it a go.

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We’d pre­vi­ous­ly come across Livingbeer.com through Google, but were tempt­ed to give it a go by the 33% off Jan­u­ary offer adver­tised ear­li­er this month on Stonch’s blog.

Duesseldorf part five – Frankenheim and further pontification on the nature of Alt

frankenheim2.jpgWe’re almost there. We end­ed up hav­ing Franken­heim twice. First, on Sat­ur­day night, after Schu­mach­er and Schloess­er, in a restau­rant / pub called Brauerei Zum Schif­fchen. It’s alleged­ly Duesseldorf’s old­est, going back to 1628. It doesn’t brew its own now, stock­ing Franken­heim instead.

Franken­heim was OK – good malt flavour with hints of choco­late, not much bit­ter­ness. Suf­fi­cient­ly decent to make us decide to vis­it their enor­mous brew­ery tap, which is about 20 min­utes walk from the old town on Wieland­strasse. This place was con­sid­er­ably qui­eter than the old town pubs, pos­si­bly because of the dis­tance, and pos­si­bly because it was Sun­day after­noon, and even the Dues­sel­dorf par­ty ani­mals have to rest some time. We also com­mit­ted some kind of faux pas by sit­ting on a regular’s table. (Why else would they have sat on our table when the pub was two-thirds emp­ty?)

So those were all the alts we got to try. There are a few oth­ers that we didn’t try – Diebels, Gatzweil­er and Rhenania, to men­tion a few. Enor­mous thanks to Ron Pat­tin­son for both­er­ing to put togeth­er his Dues­sel­dorf pub guide, as it cer­tain­ly saved us con­sid­er­able effort in plan­ning this trip.

So, some con­clu­sions. As a “style”, alt is very var­ied – the beers we tried had dif­fer­ent bit­ter­ness lev­els, dif­fer­ent malt flavours, dif­fer­ent bod­ies. It’s cer­tain­ly more var­ied than var­i­ous Koelsches (more on that soon). Our favourites from the trip were Schu­mach­er and Zum Schlues­sel, but this didn’t mean we didn’t enjoy the oth­ers.

We’re look­ing for­ward to a return trip, par­tic­u­lar­ly as Dues­sel­dorf is well-placed to get to oth­er beer des­ti­na­tions (Muen­ster, Cologne, Dort­mund). Plus there’s the draw of the “Sticke” – the stronger ver­sion, pro­duced and sold on two days a year. See this arti­cle on Ron Pattinson’s Dues­sel­dorf pages for more.

But, and this is per­haps the sacre­li­gious part – the alt itself would not be the key draw. It’s not that we didn’t enjoy it enor­mous­ly, but you can get sim­i­lar beers in the UK.* It’s the atmos­phere, the tra­di­tion and the live­li­ness. We’d hap­pi­ly move to Dues­sel­dorf for a year or two to call some of these places our locals.

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*To recre­ate the Alt effect at home: Get a nice brown bit­ter that you like, chill it for a cou­ple of hours, and pour it care­less­ly into a 250ml tum­bler so that it even­tu­al­ly set­tles down to half beer, half head. We tried it – it works. A good alt is very like a cold, super bit­ter Eng­lish ale. In our hum­ble opin­ion, this bet­ter recre­ates the alt expe­ri­ence than buy­ing a tired bot­tle of bor­ing Diebels from your local spe­cial­ist beer empo­ri­um.

Duesseldorf part four (oops) – Brauerei Zum Schluessel

schluessel2.jpgOn Sat­ur­day night, we couldn’t get through the door of Brauerei Zum Schlues­sel. The pub was packed to the rafters and the street out­side was crammed with foot­ball sup­port­ers cel­e­brat­ing a win. We cut our loss­es and came back for lunch on Sun­day.

Duesseldorf’s pubs are arguably not as atmos­pher­ic at lunchtime. In the evenings, there’s a real buzz – they’re full of peo­ple of all ages crammed close togeth­er talk­ing and laugh­ing. Dues­sel­dorf is a very touchy-feely place by Ger­man (or British) stan­dards. But at lunchtime, they seem to be colonised, in the main, by mid­dle-aged cou­ples. There is a mur­mur of con­ver­sa­tion, rather than the roar of jol­ly bac­cha­na­lia. This is still a pleas­ant atmos­phere, but hard­ly excit­ing. A nec­es­sary com­pro­mise, though, which allowed us to sit down, eat and stroke our chins in nerdish appre­ci­a­tion of the beer.

Schluessel’s alt is a beau­ty. Ron isn’t kid­ding when he says it’s hard to choose between them – they all have their charms. This one was on the dry/bitter side, part­ly from hops and part­ly from some burnt sug­ar flavours. It also seemed to have a fuller body than some of its com­peti­tors.

But enough waf­fle – look at this:

schluessel3.jpg

Hmm. That’s made us thirsty. We’re off to the pub. More tomor­row.

Duesseldorf part three – Schumacher and Schloesser

schumacher.jpgSchu­mach­er is anoth­er of Duesseldorf’s small­er brew­eries whose busi­ness seems to go on most­ly in the cosy con­fines of their brew­ery tap.

Schumacher’s brewery/pub on Ost­strasse was extreme­ly busy. We men­tioned that Dues­sel­dorf isn’t a tourist city, but its econ­o­my is fuelled by con­fer­ences and fairs. Dur­ing our vis­it, the Boot Messe was on. That’s a yacht show, you’ll note – not a pair of mud­dy wellies. So the place was crowd­ed with peo­ple in very gar­ish, expen­sive yacht­ing anoraks who were, it must be said, a jol­ly bunch.

Hav­ing now got the hang of how Dues­sel­dorf booz­ers work, we crammed our­selves into a cor­ner, said a cheery hel­lo to the mid­dle-aged cou­ple whose space we’d invad­ed, and with­in sec­onds were brought a cou­ple of glass­es of alt. The tal­ly was marked on the beer­mat. The wait­er barked and rushed off with his tray.

By this point, we were get­ting used to top­ping up with alt every few hours, and this one went down very nice­ly. We’d need a return vis­it to Dues­sel­dorf to catch all the sub­tle difer­ences, but suf­fice it to say that we liked Schu­mach­er. It is less bit­ter than Fuechsen’s or Uerige’s, and dis­tinct­ly malt-accent­ed. It’s noth­ing like as sick­ly as Schloess­er, though, and still a crisp, dry, refresh­ing drink. Boak’s favourite of the trip, in fact.

The high­lights of this vis­it: see­ing a tiny, bent-backed, faint­ly mag­i­cal cel­lar­man emerge from a tiny door beneath the bar to stretch his legs, and watch­ing a fresh wood­en bar­rel rise mag­i­cal­ly through the bar on a lift.

You want to hear more about Schloess­er? Well, we drank it with our din­ner because the only place we could squeeze into to eat (Brauerei im gold­e­nen Ring) was serv­ing it. It tast­ed OK, to be hon­est, but the dif­fer­ence between the big alts and the local ones is astound­ing: after Schu­mach­er, it was like drink­ing fizzy pop.

Final­ly, in case you’re get­ting bored of pic­tures of build­ings and signs, here’s a mouth­wa­ter­ing trail for tomorrow’s post:

schluessel1.jpg

Notes

Schloesser’s web­site is here, but it crash­es Fire­fox.  Schu­mach­er can be found here, in Ger­man only.

Duesseldorf part two – Im Fuechsen Alt

fuchschen1.jpgFol­low­ing our drinks in Uerige, we tried to get into Brauerei im Fuech­schen, but just couldn’t squeeze our way in. So we went back the next day for lunch. If you want to try alt­biers in the old town in slight­ly more “relaxed” cir­cum­stances (i.e. seats, more than an inch of per­son­al space) then a meal is def­i­nite­ly the way for­ward.

The alt here was quite dif­fer­ent from Uerige – lighter in colour, and less bit­ter, although there was still a good hop kick. With slight orangey notes, it remind­ed us of Lon­don Pride, although the alt is more bit­ter. We also tried the weizen, Sil­ber Fuech­schen. It’s always inter­est­ing to have a Ger­man wheat-beer that isn’t from Bavaria (or at least doesn’t have that banana yeast in it), and this was very pleas­ant and refresh­ing. Like one of the more inter­est­ing Bel­gian wheat­beers, such as St Bernar­dus. But we still pre­ferred the alt, by nine drinks to one.

As for the food, well, if you like tra­di­tion­al Ger­man food, you won’t be dis­ap­point­ed. Big joints of meat with knives stuck in ’em. Luvver­ly.

Dues­sel­dorf is obvi­ous­ly a bit of a par­ty town. Even in Jan­u­ary in the pour­ing rain, peo­ple were sit­ting out­side drink­ing away, and a few were even… shout­ing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such “row­di­ness” in Ger­many – although, to be fair, the shouters were get­ting dirty looks from most of the locals. We also saw some youths drink­ing bot­tles of Franken­heim Blue (don’t know, didn’t ask…) in the street and then care­ful­ly hunt­ing around for a recy­cling bin. You don’t see that in Leices­ter Square.