Düsseldorf has four house-breweries where altbier is brewed on premises; three are in the center of the Altstadt and the fourth is just a few minutes’ walk away. The beer-loving traveler must visit all four.
Zum Uerige (The Grouch) is perhaps the best known of the Düsseldorf house-breweries. Located in a large Altstadt building not far from the Rhine, Uerige is made up of many interlocking rooms that range from warm and cozy—where the wood is darkened from years of patrons’ cigarette, cigar and pipe smoke—to a huge beer-hall-like seating area. There are 400 seats in the restaurant-pub and tables and tents on both sides of the street outside. The brewery’s name derives from the owner, Wihelm Cuerten, who in 1862 started serving beer at what had been a wine bar. Cuerten had a reputation for always being in a bad mood. His cranky personality became the reason for the name Uerige, which means “grouch” in the local dialect’s slang. Patrons became used to saying they would meet “at the grouch’s place.”
Uerige describes its altbier as dat leckere Dröppke (that delicious drop). It’s a pale copper beer, soft in malt and grain flavors, finishing dry and hoppy. Twice a year, in January and October, Uerige also brews a stronger (6.2 percent ABV or more), hoppier (and dry hopped) altbier called Sticke (secret). This beer is a “secret” because only the regular customers know of its existence. Both of these beers are available (in limited quantities) in the United States.
Zum Schlüssel (The Key) is a subsidiary of the larger Gatzweiler Brauerei, located elsewhere in Düsseldorf. Gatzweiler in turn is owned by the larger Hannen Brewery of Mönchengladbach, which itself is owned by the even larger Carlsberg Brewery in Denmark. Established in 1850, Schlüssel is a large, open place, dominated by light pine wood with many large tables for seating. Notably, the köbes at Zum Schlüssel include women as well as men. Schlüssel’s altbier is a rich copper color, clean and malty, finishing sweet with some hop bitterness.
Brauerei Im Füchschen (The Little Fox) opened in 1848. It is another large, open establishment with two big front rooms and a huge back room. An upper deck in this rear area is a perfect location to drink, eat and watch the crowd below. Füchschen is known as a great restaurant. The altbier here is copper colored, moderately malty and grainy, medium-bodied, and finishes with malt sweetness and hop bitterness.
Brauerei Ferdinand Schumacher is the oldest altbier brewery in Düsseldorf, established in the Altstadt in 1838. The brewery moved to newer and more spacious quarters near the train station in 1871 but kept a pub outlet in the center of the Altstadt, named Im Goldenen Kessel (The Golden Kettle). Still a private company, Schumacher was re-built after World War II and again in 1997, adding an outside beer garden to the 400-plus seats inside. Schumacher’s altbier is amber-copper in color and malty sweet, with a pleasant fresh hop flavor and dry hop finish.