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.