It's Kölsch in Köln. Kölsch is an ale rather than a lager. Virtually every brewer in Cologne makes one and serves it in small 200ml straight-sided narrow glasses for about 1.25 to 1.80€. It's a style that goes back 750 years. Actually most of the Kölsch in town is almost as indistinguishable from each other as Bud is from Miller - understandable since most are brewed in the same plant.
Almost all of these houses serve their Kölsch by gravity from a pseudo-wood cask. There's still plenty of carbonation since it was pressurized when filled.
Waiters (köbes) carry 12 200ml Kölsch glasses (stangen) in trays (kranz) for easier service. They'll just drop a fresh glass off at your table. If you leave your table for a minute with an empty glass you'll probably find a fresh beer there when you return. Leave your mat on the glass if you don't want any more.
They keep track of your tab by pencil marks on your mat. To avoid confusion, be sure to have a clean mat when you sit down. And remember, it's not fair to switch mats in mid session.
Another local term is schwemme (swimming area) that refers to the area directly in front of the tap. The main hard-drinking location for, say someone who has to catch a train. We suggest keeping your distance to preserve the shine on the top of your shoes. People are friendly of course and you'll find various strata mixing amiably. The only real taboo is asking for an Alt - that's from Düsseldorf, about 25 miles north.
Beer is the great equalizer here. Karl Marx is quoted as saying communism wouldn't work in Cologne because the bosses drink in the same pubs as the workers.
Here's a pub crawl through the Altstadt (downtown) that you can really crawl. Not even a mile between start and finish. Start at the Dom (the magnificent cathedral near the train station) and work southward. You can sample 9 different brewery outputs and at 200ml each, you may not really be crawling at the end.
Cologne got creamed during WWII and the Altstadt area is all new construction. Never mind; many of the interiors have been put back to olden days and even the new places now have 50 years of history.
Fruh occupies both of these buildings.
Alter Morchi Treff
Früh am Dom - Closest to the Dom - Just across the square to the south. There are at least 10 rooms in this sprawling place, 5 of them down in the brick vaulted keller. Absurdly busy. Very fast and efficient food service. An overhead crane in the keller brings in new kegs - neat.
Brauhaus Sion - Just east on Am Dom. A hotel restaurant with a convenient stop-in-for-one spot at the serving station. Brewed by Kölner Verbund.
Peters Brauhaus - At the north end of the Alter Markt, this whole place looks like a dignified hotel lobby. The arched glass ceiling is magnificent and recreates the elegance of old German brauhaus interiors.
Gaffel Haus - On the Alt Market. A busy stop-in local with a stammstisch area (a table, often round, where the locals drink. They sell their normal Kolsch along with a light and a non-alcoholic version all served via carbon dioxide.
Alter Morchi Treff - A Gilden outlet just south of the Gafel Haus on the Alter Markt. It's fairly nondescript - very plain. Brewed by Kölner Verbund.
Kulisse - Dom Kölsch's Alter Markt house next to the Alter Morchi Treff. An older facade with German music at 80 decibels and a lot more people. Lots of laughing. 3, 5, and 10-liter towers on tables might explain why. Scene of a large incident during the 2005 World Cup. That pretty well explains this pub.
A block east of Kulisse is the Beirmuseum with 35 taps and rowdy German-language rock music, even on a Sunday afternoon. You won't be able to get in at night - too busy.
Next door is Papa Joes Jazz Lokal. New Orleans music and the highest Kölsch price (and biggest glasses - 400ml). Has a band all day and night.
Sünner im Walfisch - A block south. It has all the proper ambiance but it's all new inside from the 1960s when it was converted from a wine bar. Actually the whole building was moved here in the 1930s. The Kölsch tasted flat on our last visit. Very bitter. They also make a hefeweizen that is rich in banana - true Bavarian. Have a snack of Halve Hahn - a rye bread roll with cheese, butter, and pungent mustard.
Ausschank Zum Paffgen - In the Heumarkt just east of Walfisch. Their Pfaffen beer is served from the wood and is richer and fruitier than most. Stained glass and carvings have a humorous theme (below).
Brauerei Zur Malzmühle - The Muhlen (Malt Mill) is at the south side of the Heumarkt downtown. It's a 60s looking place with the brewery right next door. Clinton stopped here in 1999 for a beer as did the Visible Light tour. Our favorite so leave time for a meal.
Clowns have been a part of the Cologne scene since Shrove Monday carnivals began in 1823.
Humor inside the Zum Paffgen
The magnificent ceiling in Peters Brauhaus.
Kranz with 12 Kolsch stangen plus 6 in the middle. Picture by Tim Bartel
Papa Joes on Buttermarkt. Not to be confused with the one on the Alter Markt.