Kleine Bierkunde: Kölsch vs Alt - Two Cities Divided by Beer

June 2022

Boston knows rivalries—just ask any Red Sox fan about anything related to New York. But if things ever get out of hand, we usually settle it over a beer.

But what if beer is the rivalry? Two German cities have been trading jabs over beer, amongst other things (Karneval, Fußball) for centuries. In Köln, the southernmost city along the Mittelrhein portion of the Rhine River, the pale, fragrant Kölsch prevails. But it’s the rich copper Altbier (also called Düsselbier back in the day) that reigns supreme in Düsseldorf, the city just a few miles down the Rhein, on the opposite river bank. Both the Kölsch and Altbier share many similarities, however. First and foremost, they both are an ale. Both are crisp, clean and well-balanced lighter-bodied beers that are around 5% ABV and easily drinkable. Both are well and top-fermented, with special German Ale Yeast and are stored cold like a lager. And both are served in their typical 0.2l glasses, with wait staff bringing you a new glass as soon as you finish your Kölsch or Alt. While Alt is usually brought to your table on a tablet, Kölsch is traditionally served from a Kranz, a device designed to carry 11 glasses (Stange), making it easier for the wait staff to navigate the alway bustling bars and pubs of Köln.


Gaffel Kölschkranz
Pictured: a Gaffel Kölschkranz

Despite their regional status, both beers are part of pop culture, mainly due to beer and Karneval going hand in hand.



While Kölsch is usually only found in and around Köln, Altbier can be found outside of Düsseldorf, in cities like Dortmund or Münster, to name a few. If your interest is piqued, try a Gaffel Kölsch or a Pinkus Münster Alt at the Sommerfest! Next month's feature: The ale that broke the rules - Hefeweizen

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