Ask anyone the first thing that comes to their mind when they think of Germany, and beer is sure to come up in conversation. We know all about Oktoberfest, and we know all about Munich, and light versus dark (or at least, enough to get by). But mention the local Altbier from Dusseldorf, and prepare for blank stares.
The copper-hued ale, whose name means "old beer," uses a pre-lager brewing method with warm top-fermenting yeast, and is entirely unique to Dusseldorf.
About a half dozen Altbier breweries make their home throughout the Altstadt (which literally means "old town") in Dusseldorf, and while there are plenty of things to do there – with over 300 bars and restaurants within half a square kilometer – you should definitely make sure you give all the different versions of Altbier a try. Just as a brewery would offer its unique take on a lager or a pale ale, each brewery produces its own version of the ale, and all are worth a sip (or three).
Visiting the breweries in bunches is extremely easy because they sit five minutes from each other (ask the concierge at your hotel to circle them on the map). On a recent visit, I hit a few each night, struggling through the crowds to stake a spot at one of the high tops (in the winter, seating is indoors-only). Several streets in the Altstadt, including Ratinger and Bolker Strasse, are lined with pubs, restaurants, and breweries; the area is most famous for its long strand of back-to-back establishments that spans multiple blocks and is dubbed "the longest bar in the world."
In my opinion, the best part of drinking Altbier in Dusseldorf is the presentation: the beers themselves come in small, tall cylinder-shaped six-ounce glasses, and they go down fast. As soon as you've finished one, another fresh beer is right around the corner. There's also a practical element to their small size, which ensures that the last drop is just as cold as the first. Every time you get topped up, the waitress marks your coaster to keep track of how many you've had. Individual beers are cheap (around 2 euros a glass, under $3) but, as I learned, you always end up having more than one.
However, when you've had enough, be sure to say so. Servers walk around with deep, large circular trays full of beers, constantly making their rounds in search of thirsty patrons. Unless you place your coaster on top of your glass, they'll automatically bring you another when they see you’re almost done.
For those visiting Dusseldorf for the first time, a good place to start is Uerige, perfectly positioned for people-watching near the riverside promenade in the old town and boasting one of the Altstadt's larger outdoor seating/standing areas. From there, a handful of other places are all within walking distance, including local favorites Schumacher, Fuchschen, and Schlüsse.