Pub/Bar of the Month October 2013: Früh am Dom, Cologne, Germany
Früh am Dom, Cologne, Germany
The beer equivalent of wine's appellation controllée is perhaps most closely applied in the city of Cologne.
Only beers produced within the metropolitan area that are pale in colour, hop-accented, top-fermented and bright are entitled to call themselves kölsch (meaning 'from Cologne') and the resultant refreshing ale is among the most delicate in the canon of beer styles.
A visit to Cologne is therefore a must for anyone wanting to add another dimension to their understanding of the world of beer.
In one busy, fun-filled evening, a solid education can be acquired as you tour the city's many pubs and breweries and compare their individual takes on the style (even though many are now brewed at a big brewery owned by the Radeberger group).
As the beers are generally served in glasses of just 0.2 litres, it's not necessarily a heavy night out either.
One place you simply have to visit, perhaps as a starting point, is Früh am Dom, conveniently positioned, as its name reveals, just around the corner from the mightily impressive cathedral and the adjacent railway station.
The business began with Peter Joseph Früh in 1895. His initial brewery was sold three years later but he returned to the trade in 1904, converting a former theatre and a restaurant into a brewery and pub.
He died in 1915 but the brewery remained in family ownership, as it does today, weathering even greater setbacks as the German economy crashed in the early 1930s and the centre of Cologne was largely destroyed by Allied bombing in the Second World War.
Miraculously (perhaps in the true sense of the word), the Cathedral survived the onslaught. Früh – just a few dozen yards away – was not so lucky and was heavily damaged – apart from the brewhouse that continued steaming and was able to supply beer for other Cologne breweries that were not so fortunate.
The rest of the pub, however, needed complete reconstruction and this was handled with sensitivity to create an establishment that today seems hundreds of years old. The brewery is no longer in situ: demand for Früh's beer outstripped its capacity in the 1980s and a modern brewhouse was built to the north of the city.
Instead, in the vaulted, brick-walled basement where fermentation once took place, there is now a bierkeller, but this is just one of the numerous spacious drinking and dining areas, on various levels, within this impressive, maze-like building.
The outside tables on the cobbled square are inevitably busy in summer but walk on through to the main entrance.
There's a modern, more functional extension to the left side but make your way straight ahead into the tap room, where you can watch staff pushing taps into fresh casks and filling glass after glass of the foaming golden liquor.
To the right is the main dining room, a long, baronial space featuring half-panelled walls and faded old portraits, with chandelier lighting suspended from a painted, mosaic-like ceiling. High windows feature stained-glass and an old pendulum clock chimes the hours.
Waiters – known in the city as köbes – waltz around the room, dispensing the cute little glasses of beer from swaying slotted trays.
There is only one beer available, a typical kölsch in its delicacy and refinement. Don't expect big hoppy flavours or mouth-coating lushness of malt. Früh's beer is fragrant and subtle, a graceful, floral thirst quencher, with a hint of lemon and a dry finish, and gallons of it are drunk here to wash down the typically hearty German cooking of roasts, steaks and stews.
Because of its heritage, and even more so because of its location, Früh is obviously a magnet for tourists but don't let that put you off. Find yourself an alcove, perhaps grab a bite to eat and just enjoy that teasing subtlety of the Cologne beer style.
Früh am Dom, Am Hof 12–18, 50667 Cologne
Tel. +49 (0) 221 2613 215
Opening Hours: 8am–midnight