Uerige Altbier and Food: A Düsseldorf Tradition

Our Beer Sommelier, Maggie Cubbler, visited the Altbier capital of the world: Düsseldorf. Here she talks about the famed Uerige Altbier and some traditional food pairings.

This week I was generously hosted by the Düsseldorf Tourism Authority to come take a look at their great city and have a cheeky taste (or 10) of the city's famed Altbier. Knowing very little beyond the fact that I like Altbiers, I walked away impressed with particulars of the local drinking culture. I also walked away with a couple of unique beer and food pairings which, on paper, sound a bit peculiar. Rest assured, however, these don't become traditions for nothing.

My Altbier tour started with a lunch at none other than the historic Uerige brewery in Düsseldorf's old city (we'll visit the rest in a future piece). Immediately upon being seated I was greeted with a smile and an Altbier by one of the city's legendary köbes--local dialect for a brewhouse waiter. Dressed in blue and almost exclusively male, his job is to offer a beautifully presented Altbier: a big frothy head resting on top of crystal clear amber-coloured beer within the confines of a traditional 250ml glass cylinder called a becher. You'll note I said his job is to offer a beer, not take your order. Indeed, he is constantly walking around the vast beer hall with up to 32 full bechers of Altbier perched on his tray. No sooner have you taken your last sip and there he is, with the speed reminiscent of the nearby autobahn, offering you your next drink. And, by golly, you better take it or you'll be gently encouraged (some may call it heckled) to move along as you're only taking up space and getting in the way of him doing his job. It is all in good fun, however. Well, mostly.

I was only too happy to take him up on his offer as, just a few sips in, my lunch had appeared, ordered for me by my host. Today's special was the Könisberger Klöpse or meatballs in a white caper sauce. Served with boiled potatoes and beetroot, I was curious about the dish as it seemed a little un-German. With apparently Prussian roots (ahh yes, that explains the capers) these are simply pork meatballs simmered in water and covered in a creamy caper sauce.

 lt was an absolutely perfect match to the Altbier. Uerige's version is known to be considerably more bitter than the other traditional ones which gives a fantastic cutting power through the creamy sauce. The substantial malt character in the beer provided an interesting contrast to the briny capers while grasping on to the beet root's sweetness. Wow. That really worked.

Satisfied with that, my host ordered zwei soleier. Or eggs hard-boiled in salt water and cumin and served with oil, vinegar and mustard. Many of those ingredients are the culinary horsemen of the apocalypse to some people but hey-ho, I'll give it a go. I wasn't sure what it was going to be like with the beer, however. After gently peeling the egg, you then cut it in half in order to easily hollow out the yolk. In its place you put a dash of oil, vinegar and mustard. Place the yolk back in, season with salt and pepper and in you go. The whole bit.

Chewing with the grace of a cow, I wasn't sure how I was then going to take a sip of the beer. I finally managed and...well. Amazing. The egg is so full of briny, salty, vinegary flavour and yet one sip of beer immediately tames it right down. A brief dance of sour and sweet takes place only to give way to the refreshing bitterness of Uerige's Altbier. My eyes lit up. I loved this. I went in for the other half and was just as impressed. Who knew?

Unsure of the consequences of more hard-boiled eggs and Altbier I declined the köbes offer of another beer. Time then for me to be on my way, I gathered my things, thanked my hosts and ventured out into this great city of Altbier on the Rhine.