Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Brauerei Schumacher - Düsseldorf

We return for a brief while to the Rhineland, for a post about one of the oldest breweries in Düsseldorf, which we visited on the last morning of our trip to the city. Brauerei Schumacher were established in 1838, and apart from an enforced break due to bomb damage, at the end of WWII,  have been brewing in the heart of Düsseldorf ever since. The brewery is situated in Oststraße; an area of mixed residential properties and retail units, not far from the city centre.

We arrived for our tour just before
11am, and there were already people in the large pub-cum-restaurant in front of the brewery. Once we had checked in we were led through the courtyard adjacent, to the brew-house, and were introduced to our young and knowledgeable guide.

We started off in the racking area where the finished beer was being racked off into a mixture of plastic-coated metal casks, and some impressive-looking wooden ones. Schumacher, of course, are primarily an Alt Bier brewery, and as well as their everyday 4.6% Alt, they produce  a  stronger 5.5% Latzenbier, three times a year (the third Thursday in March, September and November).

They also brew a spring beer (Frühlingsbier), normally to a different recipe each year. In 2013 Schumacher produced an Anniversary Ale to celebrate their 175th anniversary. It is appropriately named 1838er, and is described as a hybrid pale/alt which, somewhat unusually, it bittered using Australian hops. These impart the sort of citrus-like flavours normally associated with American Pale Ales.

After a talk about the company, its history and it products, we climbed the stairs towards the top of the brewery, where the lauter tun and brew-kettle are situated.  The brewery adhere strictly to the  German Purity Law of  1516, known as the Reinheitsgebot. A double- decoction mash is used, with some caramelisation taking place in the lauter tun. This helps give the beer its distinctive copper colour, but also contributes flavour as well.

After lautering the sweet wort is transferred to the brew-kettle where whole hops, sourced primarily from the famous Hallertau region of southern Germany, are added. The resultant wort is boiled for an hours, in a traditional copper kettle, before being pumped upstairs to a large, shallow open cooler known as a “cool-ship” in English and a “Kühlschiff” in German. These types of coolers were once common place in breweries throughout Europe and the UK. I have seen examples at Elgoods Brewery in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire and also at De Halve Maan in Bruges.

Once the wort has cooled to 65º C, it is pumped through a modern counter-flow plate cooler, before being transferred to the fermenting vessels. Schumacher still use open fermenters for the initial fermentation and this allows the rather lively top-fermenting yeast to be skimmed off. We were shown into a room housing these vessels, and the CO2 being given off by the fermenting beer was so pungent that it literally took your breath away. I couldn’t work out at  first why I was so short of breath after climbing just a short flight of steps, until I realised the cause; but the CO2 levels were so high that a couple of our party had to leave the room because they were having difficulty breathing!

After two days the “green” beer is transferred to closed fermenters where it undergoes 3-4 weeks of additional fermentation, followed by maturation and conditioning (carbonation). It also partially clears during this period, but to ensure a crystal-clear end product, the beer is filtered prior or casking or bottling. We were led into the bottling area to see this, after first passing through a “forest” of maturation vessels, held at a constant temperature of just 3 °C.  Draught beer is filled into casks ranging in size from 5 to 70 litres, whilst the bottled beer is filled into large one litre, swing-top bottles which are unique to Schumacher.

Once the tour had ended, we thanked our friendly and informative guide, and were then shown into the brewery-tap, known as the Stammhaus, which fronts onto Oststraße. There we were given a glass or two of Schumacher Alt  to sample, although we went on to try the 1838er as well.

We could have eaten at Schumacher, but it was still quite early, and our intrepid guide had a brew-pub lined up fro us to try, across the other side of town. There was still plenty of time for Matt and I to tag along on this, before we would have to leave for the airport.

"Have you tried it yet?"
For the record though, it was good to have visited one of the oldest breweries in Düsseldorf, and good to see that it is still adhering to traditional methods of production.


Matt said...

Brauerei Schumacher on Oststrasse holds a very special spot in my beer drinking memories as the place where I first drank a glass of Altbier, having just off the train at the nearby Hauptbahnhof. I also like their pub in the Alstadt, Im Goldenen Kessel.

Nick Boley said...

In my view the best of the Dusseldorf Alt brewers. A few years ago we did some thorough research (!) and my wife and I both independently concluded Schumacher's Alt was the best. The brewery Stammhaus is in a rather unprepossessing area of the city but has such immense charm and character it doesn't matter. Happy memories of Altbier sampling in Dusseldorf.

Paul Bailey said...

Schumacher are definitely handy for the Hauptbahnhof, Matt. Regrettably we didn't have time to visit the Goldenen Kessel, although we did manage quite a few other pubs in the Altstadt.

I would definitely agree Nick, that Schumacher produce the best Altbier in Düsseldorf. It's just a shame we left it until our last day in the city to find this out.