Beer was the last thing on my mind when I recklessly decided to undertake a series of £100 weekend citybreaks. It was demoted to the hinterland beneath “where will I sleep?” and “will I be able to walk to and from the airport?”
These citybreaks are an attempt to prove that travel shouldn’t just be for the wealthy. Us penniless, deskbound 9-5ers should be able to break out too. My £100, all I could spare per month, would have to cover everything: flights, transport to and from the airport, accommodation, food, museum admissions… etc. Because anyone can nab cheap flights between Tuesday-Thursday, I decided to make it more difficult: each break must fall within a weekend. I returned from 36 (admittedly boozeless) hours in Gothenburg, Sweden, in late January, with five pence left in my budget. Giddy with success I reckoned that, if I could make it round one of the most expensive cities in Europe with money left over, I could afford the odd delicious half on the next holiday. Particularly when that next holiday was in Cologne. Bitesized beer breaks are super-speedy top tips for drinking on a budget in Europe. For more budget travel tips and stuff to do when you’ve only got a couple of Euro to rub together, see Liz’s columns in The Independent on Sunday (starting in April). Cologne in west Germany is best known in beery circles for kölsch, a phenomenally light speciality lager brewed to very specific requirements laid out by the Köln (Cologne) Brewery Association. According to the Kölsch-Konvention a beer can only be called kölsch if it fulfils strict purity requirements, among which are that it is brewed in the city, has a gravity between between 11 and 14º Plato (4.4%-5.2%), is filtered but slightly hoppy. Kölsch’s history is interlinked with that of its parent city. Just two of Cologne’s 40 breweries survived the Second World War; subsequently it fought off other popular German beers to peak at 370 million liters in 1980. Thirteen breweries in Cologne currently produce kölsch, of which we visited two of the most popular – Gaffel am Dom and Früh. For the full (if admittedly touristy) Kölsch experience, visit Gaffel’s cavernous brewhouse in the shadow of Cologne’s magnificent cathedral (the Dom). If you just want to drink you need to head to the bar on the far side of the restaurant – tables are reserved for dining only, we discovered after about thirty minutes forlornly trying to flag down the phantom-like beer ninjas, or Köbes, who make tall, frosty glasses of the stuff appear next to you every time you finish your drink (unless you cover your glass with your coaster – top tip!). The brewery was founded in 1908 by the Becker Brothers and is best known for the top-fermented Gaffel Kölsch still brewed in its cellars. The beer, which comes in at a mere £1.23 per 200ml glass, is crisp, fruity and breathlessly light. Because it is served in such small glasses it is always ice cold, and comes clear, pale yellow with a ghost of a head. Every new glass is recorded on your coaster, which makes this an excellent option for thrifty and thirsty travellers. As long as your maths doesn’t let you down. We got through 12 glasses over the course of one Bundesliga match, which cost us just over 20 Euro. The German guy sharing our space at the bar told us that it doesn’t count as a night out in Cologne unless you get through 22 glasses, but we were happy to chalk this one down as an evening in and have clearer heads for a Sunday morning stroll down the Rhine. Century-old Früh‘s main brewpub stands a stone’s throw from the cathedral (handily five minutes from Gaffel am Dom, if you’re time-constrained. Früh is much drier and more crisp than Gaffel’s slightly fruity kölsch, with a more pronounced cereal-malt taste. We stood by tables in the brewpub’s vaulted, medieval entrance and watched the phenomenally efficient workflow that goes into filling every waiter’s “garland” – a round holster – with tall, thin glasses. It pours crystal clear and slightly-straw yellow, like kölsch should. The beer is .10 cents more expensive per glass – 1.80 euro – than at Gaffel. We preferred the latter’s long, noisy beerhalls to Früh’s darker cellars – but if you’ve got time it’s definitely worth the short trek across town to compare the two. A beer tour of Cologne is eminently achievable on a budget. The booze is cheap and delicious and, thanks to the brilliant waiters and ever-updated coaster recording system, you can keep track of your budget. Food in the brewpubs we visited was also reasonable; although on one memorable occasion that was admittedly just a really, really big plate of chips. Best of the rest: If ICIP had time, we’d have liked to try Sion and Peters Brauhaus Try it at home: Thornbridge make a delicious Kölsch-style beer (they have to call it that because of the purity laws) called Tzara. Brewer Rob Lovatt talks through the process of making it in a blogpost for insidebeer.
Next time: Brno, in the Czech Republic
After that: Copenhagen in Denmark. Any tips? Tweet us @icipints or leave a comment
[Edited 26/3/15: Früh’s brewery did not survive the Second World War, as originally suggested in this article]