A couple of weekends ago, Nick and I found ourselves in Cologne, Germany (Köln to the natives) for a concert. Thanks to the Thalys high-speed train network, the trip from Paris was a short three hours, allowing us to spend the better part of two days eating and drinking our way through the city’s many beer halls. We arrived in time for lunch, and after finding our hotel, headed straight for the Päffgen Hausbrauerei.
The beers (Kölsch, and Kölsch alone) are brought around on deep trays with slots to hold the narrow glasses. The waiter keeps a tally of how many you’ve ordered on your coaster.
I had sauerbraten, a dish of braised beef in a sweet-and-sour sauce traditionally thickened with ground gingersnaps. It came with potato dumplings and applesauce. Classic.
Nick ordered the bratwurst, sold in lengths of three-quarters of a meter. It was served with a tiny tureen of spicy mustard.
Just look at the lovely lace the Kölsch leaves behind on the glass.
After lunch we went out to do a little sightseeing.
The cathedral is stunning. It just goes up forever. And it is there to greet you upon exiting the train station.
Nearby, at the bierhaus Früh am Dom, a party atmosphere reigns, with waiters scurrying around making sure that everyone has a full glass. We found the crush of people overwhelming, and the beer underwhelming, so Nick and I moved on, to the Sion brauerei. Which was a train wreck. All the beer was pouring foamy, glasses and dishes seemed to be breaking left and right. Everyone was stressed. After a short walk along the Rhine river, and a number of failed attempts to find a place we could sit and have a snack before the concert (apparently the Germans hold mealtimes much less sacred than the French – places were packed with people drinking and eating by 5 pm), we ended up at Gilden im Zims, a cavernous bier haus where we noshed on weisswurst and soft pretzels served with butter and sweet mustard.
We also had a sour cherry strudel, the photos of which were completely unremarkable.
The next day dawned cold and sunny. Following a wonderful brunch buffet (not words you’ll hear from me very often), Nick and I once again set out to taste Kölsch. The small size – 20 cl, or less than 7 oz. – of the glasses makes it easy to taste a wide variety without losing your senses. We visited Peter’s Brauhaus, where we sipped beer under bowers of hops, and the smells of dumplings and sausages wafting from the kitchen managed to reawaken our appetites. But rather than get stuck all afternoon in one spot, no matter how gemütlich (cozy, welcoming) that place may be. So we left, and I sure am glad we did, because at the very next stop we found our very favorite beer of the whole trip.
There, on the sunny terrace of the Pfaffen Brauerei, Nick and I sipped their kölsch from beautiful glasses.
And we immediately grinned at each other. Gorgeous hop bitterness and crisp, refreshing body made this beer the clear winner of our tasting.
As we enjoyed our beers, I took a gander at the food menu and noticed that they had a special menu for game season. Sold. Only it wasn’t quite time to eat yet – we wanted to fortify ourselves before our train ride home – so we had to find a distraction.
Fortunately, Köln is full of distractions for beer-lovers such as ourselves. We took another short walk down to the river, skipping the Lowenbrau brauhaus in favor of the Bierhaus en d’r Salzgass, tucked away on a cobbled side street. They happen to pour Päffgen beer, which we’d already tasted at the brewery the day before. But we liked it, and the imposing-yet-cozy, dark carved wood-and-wrought iron interior intrigued us enough to settle in.
Of course, I thought we should have an apéro, so I convinced Nick that we couldn’t leave Germany without splitting a plate of liverwurst.
After which, we went straight back to Pfaffen for dinner.
Nick chose the wildschweinbraten, sauerbraten made with wild boar in place of the usual beef.
I had the goulasch of venison. Both dishes were served with potato dumplings, braised red cabbage, cranberry sauce (I have suspicions that these were actually lingonberries), and a baked apple, which made a lovely dessert after the hearty meal.
An aside – until I looked back through these photos, I hadn’t realized how ubiquitous the lion’s head soup bowls were, but I seem to have captured them in no less than three different places. Funny.
Our bellies full of warming German food, Nick and I hopped on the train back to Paris, where we dozed and read and after three hours, we were home.
Originally published on Croque-Camille.