“Ich bin ein Kölsch,” said Bill Clinton after downing a glass of Mühlen Kölsch beer and eating a dish of Rhineland-style Sauerbraten with dumplings and applesauce in 1999. That may be why the Rhineland-style Sauerbraten is still the front-runner here in Cologne’s second-oldest brewery restaurant, the Brauerei zur Malzmühle. But there are many, many other options if you’re looking for an extensive tour of brewery restaurants — with or without Sauerbraten and hearty traditional dishes such as “Himmel un Äd” (Heaven and Earth), pork knuckle, and bratwurst. After all, Cologne is the only city that is permitted to brew its famous Kölsch beer.
Essentials of the brewery restaurant tour: the Köbes and the beer-coaster language
There are so many brewery restaurants between the Cathedral, the Rathaus (Town Hall) and the Rhine Promenade that you’ll surely be putting your beer coaster on top of your Kölsch glass before you’ve gotten to know them all. With this gesture you’ll be showing the Köbes that enough is enough. It’s time to go home.
What awaits you before you make this decision? Cologne’s most down-to-earth restaurants, full of lively cheer and unique rustic charm. There’s probably no other place where you can experience Cologne’s typical hearty yet gruff hospitality as vividly as in its brewery restaurants, whether they’re in the city centre or Cologne’s traditional Altstadt (Old Town).
Cologne & Kölsch: all about the only language you can drink
You might be wondering how it feels to be amidst the brewery restaurant atmosphere. Here conversation flows easily, differences disappear and people simply have a good time and drink together, in line with the well-known local song “Drink doch ene mit” (lift a glass with us). You can choose between approximately 25 brands of Kölsch brewed in Cologne.
Apropos Kölsch: Thanks to the special way it’s brewed, this top-fermented beer makes better use of the sugar and malt than other types of beer, making it especially light and digestible.
Kölsch is traditionally served by a waiter called a Köbes in the traditional gruff Köbes style — in a typical cylindrical Kölsch glass that holds 0.2 l. Because the glass is small, the Köbes rushes around with his round tray of glasses full of Kölsch, setting them down on customers’ tables. The beer is drawn from a 10 L barrel, and it’s always cool and fresh. So stop talking — and drink up!
All about Kölsch and Köbes
Speaking of the Köbes: in other places you might consider his behaviour rude, but here in Cologne’s brewery restaurants it’s part of the city’s unique culture. You could call the Köbes an outlier in the polite art of serving that is normally practised in Germany. His traditional brewery worker’s outfit consists of a blue knitted jacket with a high collar and a double row of black buttons, black trousers, a blue apron, and a leather pouch for money that is worn over his stomach. And his manner is part of the traditional brewery restaurant experience — it might be cheeky and rude, dry and deadpan, or then again hearty and cheerful. His changing moods might leave you either baffled or amused — it all depends on you. But there’s one thing that never changes: in a brewery restaurant, the Kölsch tradition is king.
Brewery restaurants in Cologne: unchanged for centuries
Cologne’s brewery restaurants can look back on a history that goes back for 500 years. In the year 1412, a decree of the magistrate of the city of Cologne established 21 breweries operated by professional guilds within the city walls. Cologne’s oldest breweries include the Brauhaus Sion on Unter Taschenmacher, which first opened its doors in 1511, as well as the Cölner Hofbräu P. Josef Früh am Dom near the Cathedral and the Brauerei Päffgen on the Friesenstraße, both of which are more than 100 years old. Visitors who enjoy exploring historical cultures of food and drink will be interested in joining one of Cologne’s guided brewery tours.
The food critic Jürgen Dollase writes that the Päffgen brewery restaurant, which offers “clearly formulated prototypical Rhineland cuisine”, brews its brand of Cologne’s favourite beverage in its own cellar on the Friesenstraße — and brings it directly to your table. The hearty fare that goes with it includes curly kale with smoked sausage, beer-marinaded pork knuckle, schnitzel, bratwurst and half a roast chicken with chips. And of course the brewery restaurants also serve Kölsch specialities such as Halver Hahn (a rye bread roll with aged Gouda cheese and mustard), Rhineland-style Sauerbraten and fried black pudding or liver sausage. Enjoy your meal!
Breweries & modernism in Cologne: a footnote
Today even the brewery-restaurant culture has a modern variant. For example, you can also find brewery restaurants without a Köbes or serving international or seasonal dishes — also including meatless dishes or even vegan goulash. Nowadays some brewery restaurants even serve Alt beer. But all of them still have something in common: traditional Kölsch hospitality. As the New York Times once put it in an article about Cologne’s brewery-restaurant culture, “But drinking a Kölsch is more than just drinking a beer: it’s like drinking an entire culture.”
Experience brewery culture live
The top brewery restaurants at a glance