Still more to enjoy in Cologne

We can’t believe that, with all our trips to Cologne, including a couple of dedicated Koelsch crawls, we’ve not made it to the Paeffgen brewery tap before. Perhaps it’s because it’s a bit out of the way; or perhaps it’s because we hadn’t done our research — Ron Pattinson calls it a “European must visit”.

Anyway, we made it right on our most recent trip, and were glad we did. For one thing, the beer is superb — honeyed and spicy — very much like an English ale, but also distinctly not. We’ve had it before and liked it but, here, it was stunning.

We loved observing the way the place is run, too.  All the Kobes (waiters) compete for the same barrel, half-filling glasses in a kranz, then letting it sit in a funny kind of urinal until they’re ready to go, when they top them off. The supervisor barks at them from his perch as they pass, making them stop so he can count the number of glasses they’re taking, presumably as some kind of fraud control, but alsoperhaps so they know when the barrel needs changing. And when that happens, with lots of chains and an electric winch, it’s quite a thing to behold.

Interestingly, this was one of the few times we’ve been in a Cologne beer hall at a quiet time and it  seems to mean you wait a lot longer for your beers — if there isn’t an absolute kranzload of punters, you have to wait until there is.

Cologne: not just about the Koelsch


We end up in Cologne so often these days  on our way in and out of Germany that it’s a struggle to find new pubs or beers to try. This time, however, we spotted an advert for Freischem’s Brauhaus on a free city map and trekked out of the immediate city centre in the rain to give it a go.

It was huge and mostly empty — because it was 4.30 on a wet Sunday afternoon or because it only opened a month or two ago? The beer list immediately had us a little excited. It included a Koelsch, of course, but also something called Trub, a weizen, a Christmas beer and a stout.

The Koelsch was of the slightly darker, honey-tasting variety (see also Paeffgen) and very pleasant. Trub was, unsurprisingly, a cloudy light beer — their answer to the bland brauhaus zwickl and perfectly drinkable, if unexciting. The weizen ticked all the usual boxes.

Weihnachtsbier was a nice red colour with a good spicy aroma. We were split on this one, though. Boak thought it was dull, verging on unpleasant, with an off yeast flavour and not much more. Bailey could taste roasted malt and liked the bitterness.

The stout was the stand-out beer, though. We really weren’t expecting much — a boring schwarzbier, perhaps? — but it had a good thick body, a creamy chocolate flavour and a great roasted bitter aftertaste. We’d have enjoyed this anywhere but, by German brewpub standards, it was a knockout.

Given that it wasn’t far away, we also staged a return visit to Hellers, where there were a couple of new beers for us to try as well as some old favourites. Winterbock was an amateur take on Aventinus, with all the right clove and fruit flavours but  with absolutely no condition. Pity, as this would be stunning otherwise. The new bottled Pils was very good — bitter, but not especially hoppy, and so malty it tasted like mashing grain.

Bottles of Hellers Wiess (the unfiltered Koelsch) are currently on sale at Cask, the excellent pub in Pimlico we wrote about here.

Adnams get experimental


It’s easy to think of Adnams as a rather stolid, big, unexciting regional brewery. They have some lovely branding and design and have been very innovative in ‘green brewing’ but, nonetheless, the beers of their’s you see most commonly in London are quite conservative in their flavour.

They’ve obviously decided to go beyond Bitter/Broadside/blonde beer, though, and (with thanks to Steve the Beer Justice for the tip off) are now brewing a wide range of monthly specials in continental styles, starting with a Koelsch-style beer.

Next month, they’re rolling out a Belgian abbey-type ale, and there are German and Belgian-style wheat beers in the pipeline. They’re also going to take on Guinness next spring with a dry stout.

Innovation doesn’t just need to mean ‘turning up the volume’ or putting coconut in your beer — more subtle experiments with hops and yeast can be just as mind-expanding — so we’re looking forward to trying these.

We emailed Adnams to ask where these beers will be on sale in London, and Danielle sent us this list:

The Carpenters Arms
73 Cheshire Street, E2    6EG

The Brewery Tap
69 High Street
Wimbledon Village, SW19  5EE

The Queens Arms
11 Warwick Way
Pimlico, SW1V  1QT

The Wenlock Arms
26 Wenlock Road, N1    7TA

The Old Dairy
1-3 Crouch Hill, N4    4AP

The Pineapple Public House
51 Leverton Street
Kentish Town, NW5   2NX

The Wimbledon Club
Church Road, SW19  5AG

We have a winner: best British Koelsch Klone

A few months ago, we spotted that Young’s bottled Kew Brew (now “Kew Gold”) is a dead ringer for a decent draught Koelsch. We tested that theory again this week and are now prepared to say, outright, that it’s the best substitute for draught Koelsch you can get in the UK.

Filtered, pasteurised bottles of Frueh just don’t compare. It’s even better than Meantime’s slightly bland effort.

The Session #19 – German beer

The cap from a bottle of Rothaus Tanen Zapfle
The cap from a bottle of Rothaus Tannen-Zaepfle beer

This month’s Session has been set by Lootcorp 3.0 and is on the subject of German beer.

…the goal is to dig a little deeper and write about how German beers and beer culture have worked their way into your life (and hearts)…

We’ve already blogged about this — our conversion to good beer took place in Germany, so it’s a pretty key part of our beer-drinking lives. We try to go there at least once a year, and I’ve even started learning German so I can have all those fascinating conversations with Franconian brewers about their mashing schedules.

It’s a bit easier to get a regular dose of German beer culture in London, now that Zeitgeist has opened up. So to celebrate this month’s session, so we popped along there.

Zeitgeist is aimed at homesick Germans, so the beer list reflects what Germans actually drink. Therefore most of what’s on offer is the usual mass-produced, nationally available lagers — Bitburger, Warsteiner, Koenig Pils etc. In a shrewd move, reflecting the tendency of Germans to boast about their local beer, they also offer a number of big “regionals” – eg Gaffel Koelsch (on tap), Schloesser Alt and Tannen-Zaepfle, by the Baden-Wuerttenberg state-owned brewery.

Last night, we had a little virtual tour round Germany. We started in the former DDR, with Wernesgruener, before moving to the far north-east west for some Jever (seriously cheesy website, BTW). I don’t think we’ve actually blogged about this before, which is surprising, given how much we drink it. There’s just something about its bitter kick that makes us come back for more. Tastes a bit like hay, in a good way.

Gaffel Koelsch went down well. While it’s not our favourite koelsch, we prefer drinking this one fresh out of the barrel than drinking a tired bottle of a better one. It’s always refreshing, and drinking it next to Wernesgruener and Jever brings out the malty, fruity flavours.

Then down to Baden-Wuerttenburg, where we sampled Eichbaum and Rothaus Tannen-Zaepfle. The Eichbaum was pretty dull (too much hopfenekstrakt and no hops?) and the TZ was OK. When we were on holiday in Heidelberg, we drank it there and noted that it’s a lot fruitier than other pils. It’s drinkable enough, but really not terribly exciting, unless you’re from the area and feeling homesick.

Finally, into Bavaria for Schlenkerla Maerzen. Mmmmm. Frazzles and fruit. Does it for me every time.


German pub in London

Zeitgeist at the Jolly Gardeners, Vauxhall, South London is absolutely bizarre and absolutely brilliant.

We frequently get “homesick” for Germany, despite being from the UK. When we heard about Zeitgeist through Metro, the free newspaper they give away on London Underground, we got very excited. Tonight was our first visit. It won’t be our last.

It’s run by two expat Germans from Cologne and offers 36 German beers, with at least 10 on tap. They took over in October 2007 and reopened the pub in November. Some of the reviews on Beer in the Evening paint a picture of a pub in the middle of a terrifying council estate. Having grown up on a terrifying council estate, I’m less scared of working class people than some, but the fact that you can almost see Big Ben and MI6 from the pub makes it even less of a worrying prospect. It seemed like a perfectly nice area to us.

The pub itself was excellent. Definitely a pub, but equally surely a small piece of Germany 15 minutes from Westminster. The landlord and landlady were both dressed in German football shirts and the barmaid spoke to us in German — that’s the default language. During our stay, the place filled up with expats keen to watch the Germany/Austria match on a big screen.

What about the beer? Well, here’s the menu. Nothing staggeringly exciting for any tickers out there, but all are in great nick, and with most of the common German beer styles represented. We were especially excited to find a decent Koelsch on tap (Gaffel). If you want to know what the fuss is about Koelsch but can’t get to Cologne, here’s your chance to try the real deal nearer to home.

We were amused to see British customers getting full glasses with tiny heads, plus an apology the glass wasn’t completely full, which German customers were served tiny glasses with towering, frothy ice-cream heads. What’s the German for: “I’ll take mine like a native, please”?

The food was good, too. The menu divides it up by region. Notably, there are at least twelve schnitzel dishes on offer, as well as Nuernberger sausages and Cologne potato pancakes.

In short, we’ll be back. This pub deserves to be a big success.


Zeitgeist is also known as the Jolly Gardeners, and is at 49-51 Black Prince Road, Se11 6AB. Map here. Closest tube stations are Vauxhall, Kennington, Lambeth North, and Westminster.


I wish I was in Cologne

cologne1.jpgIt’s Shrove Tuesday (aka Pancake Day). I love pancakes, don’t get me wrong. But isn’t Shrove Tuesday in Britain a pretty tame celebration, compared to the multi-day benders that go on in many parts of the world?

The Rhineland goes in for carnivals in a big way. Whilst we were in Duesseldorf a few weeks back, we saw plenty of posters advertising the big events to come. The Cologne carnival is even more famous.

I wish I was in Cologne, drinking koelsch tonight.

And that reminds me — we haven’t posted our postscript to our trip to Duesseldorf — a brief round up of a couple more cheeky koelsches downed between train connections.

On the way out, it was a visit to the Gaffel brewery tap in the Alter Markt. Gaffel’s pleasant enough, particularly when it’s the first beer of the trip. However, more exciting was the fact that we saw the very waiter from the photo that illustrates the “Cologne and the Northwest” section of the Eyewitness Guide to beer.

On the way back, we thought we’d pop into the famous Frueh am Dom, which had always looked too touristy/busy to visit on previous trips. It being a wet Monday afternoon in January, there was plenty of room, even with all the businessmen and their suitcases, awaiting their train connections. It’s a nice place. The brew itself is a very clean, crisp koelsch, very refreshing but not one of the more interesting ones (in our humble opinions).

Highlight this time round was Peter’s Koelsch, from their outlet in the old town. We seemed to have missed this on our first crawl round Cologne. You can definitely taste the ale in this one — fruity and almost sulphurous. We liked it.


A map containing all of the places mentioned here and in our previous post can be found on Ron Pattinson’s European Beer Guide, here, which also has stacks of other interesting information. You can also follow this link for Ron Pattinson’s various koelsch crawls, all entertaining reads.


Does Koelsch taste any different from lager?

hellers.gifI’m ashamed to admit it, but for a long time, we couldn’t really see what the fuss about Koelsch was. I know it’s technically an ale, but I couldn’t taste it.

It probably didn’t help that the only examples we’d been able to try were several bottles of Meantime’s “Cologne Style Lager”, a pint (a pint!) of Kupper’s on tap, a bottle of Frueh, and a bottle of Dom. One was, clearly, not authentic, and the others had travelled a distance, and were reckoned to be among the blander examples, too.

So, we took advantage of our visit to Germany in the spring to answer the burning question once and for all: does Koelsch taste any different from lager?

The first Koelsch we had was on the way out to Bavaria, when we stopped off in Aachen for a night. Aachen isn’t a big beer town — they just don’t seem that interested — so the only Koelsch we found was Dom, which we drank at The Golden Swan. It was welcome as the first beer of our German trip, but wasn’t terribly exciting. It really did taste like any other lager.

The next day, we trekked down to Bavaria, where we spent almost two weeks drinking every type of beer we could get our hands on. I can only assume our taste-buds got more refined and more used to distinguishing subtle differences, because there was a magic moment in Nuremberg when we suddenly *understood* Koelsch.

Oddly enough, this happened while we were drinking a pilsner. Neumarkt Lammsbrau’s pils came in the standard pilsner stem glass. It looked like a standard pilsner. But the minute I put my nose in to take a sip, I was taken aback. “It smells slightly like an ale,” we both said, simultaneously. And it tasted a bit like an ale, too. Not a pint of London Pride, exactly, but somehow fruitier and riper than most lagers. “It’s like a Koelsch,” we agreed, and then little lightbulbs appeared over our heads. “So that’s it — that’s what a Koelsch tastes like.” We started to look forward to our imminent 24 hour stint in Cologne, on the way home.

cologne2.jpgIn the afternoon and evening we had there, we did nothing but hunt Koelsch, but this time, each one tasted different.

  • Reissdorf was distinctly fruity, with some wine-like flavours.
  • Pfaffen — a spin-off from Paffgen, the result of some kind of family feud — was noticeably dark and more bitter, and tasted very strongly of honey. Reminded me of Fuller’s much-maligned Honey Dew.
  • Paeffgen — a spin-off from Pfaffen, the result of some kind of family feud — was very similar, but lighter in colour and hoppier, reminiscent of an English summer ale.
  • Frueh, which had tasted more-or-less like Fosters when I drank it in London, also had strong fruit flavours, and was obviously an ale, although fizzier and tamer than some of the others we tried.
  • Dom, too, tasted noticeably like an ale, but still struck us as “middle-of-the-road”. Beautiful glasses and a very cool logo, though!

As night began to fall, we retreated to the student district, walking the streets looking at pubs for signs which would tell us which Koelsch they served. We ended up going to some very weird bars, just because they had one we wanted to try.

  • Gilden was light, spritzy without being fizzy, and had a subtle but distinct flavour of strawberries — it would make a great replacement for champagne at a beer-bore’s dinner party. Probably my favourite.
  • Gaffel was very like a pilsner, with no real ale flavours.
  • Sion was the dullest of them all — just like a helles, though perhaps drier.
  • We finished with a humdinger, though, at Heller’s brewpub on Roonstrasse. Their three beers were all interesting. The Koelsch was particularly special, tasting malty and rich, and reminiscent of toffee-apples. The unique “Wiess” (“veece”, not “vice”) was, in effect, the same beer but unfiltered. It tasted entirely different — apples, again, but this time with lemons, and a really obvious “ale” flavour, perhaps from all the swirling suspended yeast. Remarkable.

So, Koelsch isn’t just lager, but pasteurising, filtering and lagering soften out the ale flavours, and made them hard for us to spot. The fault wasn’t with the beer, as such, but with our ability to pick out subtle flavours, which is the downside of drinking crazily powerful IPAs, Imperial Stouts, ESBs and so on the rest of the time.


Lamb and Kriek Pie

I noticed that the Pembury Tavern in Hackney, East London (my favourite pub) was serving Lamb and Kriek Pie today. I didn’t try it, but I’ve been pondering other pie/beer combinations.

Obviously, there’s the classic steak and ale – I’ve found Hook Norton Old Hooky a great ale to use for this, as it’s on the malty side. I used ESB once and it was a touch too bitter.

But what beer to go with chicken in a pie filling? Something not too bitter, light in colour, perhaps citrusy… a German weissbier? Chicken and weissbier pie could work.

How about for the veggies (like Boak)? Lentil, carrot and onion cooked off in Koelsch might work. Or mushrooms in mild… as long as a completely black filling doesn’t make the pie look too unappetising.