"I have confetti in my blood"
Thea Ungermann on Schumacher Alt and other Düsseldorf specialties
Thea Ungermann runs the Schumacher, the city's oldest home brewery. Düsseldorfers have been drinking Schumacher Alt since 1838 - at carnival, after work, and in between. Ungermann and her team show that tradition has nothing to do with standing still, with new Altbier creations and special service ideas. In an interview, Thea Ungermann explains what makes Altbier special and how guests can best get to know Düsseldorf.
Ms. Ungermann, you brew Düsseldorf's oldest Altbier. What makes an Original Schumacher?
Our Alt is home-brewed in Düsseldorf according to the Purity Law of 1516 with German cone hops, malt and water. Unlike industrial breweries, where you can hardly see, smell or taste raw materials, let alone beer, our 20 brewery employees still put a lot of hand in and work with traditional equipment. Every liter of Schumacher Alt is brewed, fermented, stored and filtered on Oststraße in Düsseldorf.
For those who haven't tried it yet: What's so special about Altbier?
Alt means brewed in the old brewing style, before Carl Linde invented cooling machines. Top-fermented is also wheat beer, ale and Kölsch. However, thanks to the dark malt and more intense hopping, Alt naturally has much more character than Kölsch. Storage breaks down the headache-inducing fermentation byproducts, the beer becomes more digestible - after a nice evening with a few liters per person, the brewer can then do nothing about it.
How many people know the recipe for your beer?
Not many, it's a secret family recipe.
You call yourself not just a brewery, but a manufactory - is Alt in vogue?
Our Alt is not subject to trends, the taste speaks for itself. And craft beer corresponds to what we have always done: Brewing and bottling beer by hand. To bridge the gap to today's craft beer, we have developed the 1838er: an Altbier 2.0, which we prepare with the American aroma hop Cascade with citrus character and the Australian hop Galaxy for berry aromas in cold hopping. The 1838 has a fruity, sparkling hop aroma, is perfect for beer cocktails, and shows how versatile Altbier can be.
The family-owned company Rügenwalder now earns more with vegetarian products than with sausage and ham. Is it conceivable that meat-free beer bites will catch on with you?
Many things are imaginable, except that our Schumacher Alt changes. But of course it often happens that guests want vegetarian dishes. Of course we have delicious dishes on the menu - and with the Alt beer even a vegan product! But the classic Metthappen and the delicious Frikadelle from our brewery kitchen remain perennial favorites.
Who comes to you for a Schumacher Alt?
Our guests are as diverse as our offerings. Everyone quickly feels at home at the Schumacher, young and old, Düsseldorfers and out-of-towners, from letter carriers to bankers, from trade fair guests to regulars who read the newspapers here every lunchtime. Our brewery is like a second living room.
What should guests order who come to you for the first time?
After all, it's all about the personal palate here. If you like it hearty, you will quickly find something on our menu. Of course, you should try all our old specialties. My personal tip: meatball with fried egg, roasted potatoes and salad with Schumacher dressing.
Not only the beer is special in Düsseldorf, but also those who serve it. A word about the Köbes: What makes a good one?
The Köbes is an institution in a brewery. He brings the freshly tapped Alt. A Köbes must have good nerves, pay attention to hygiene and is at the same time entertainer, joker and philosopher.
And what about female service staff?
A woman is a waitress, not a Köbes. This is a masculine term derived from the name Jakob.
If you are visiting Düsseldorf for the first time and have a day or two: Which places do you recommend, where should day-trippers go besides the Schumacher?
Go to the Rhine promenade and enjoy the view or continue past the city hall to the media harbor. So you have the best insight from the historical to the modern Düsseldorf and feel the versatility and tolerance of this city. Then a Rhine tour from the old town to Kaiserswerth or simply stroll along Lorettostraße, Luegallee or Kö - the districts offer a lot of variety with great little stores. And of course, special highlights are to visit the city during the carnival, the funfair or the Japan Day. Then you get to know and love the cosmopolitan Rhenish culture of life.
Is it actually still unusual or not worth mentioning to run a family business as a woman in this industry?
It's unusual, unusually great. Otherwise, no. I was supported by my parents from the very beginning. And there have been women in the management of our brewery for more than 50 years.
You would think that a traditional home brewery would tolerate little change. A mistake?
Since Joh. Matthias Schumacher bought the establishment of the brewery "Im Sonnenaufgang" in 1838, we have preserved beloved traditions and added new ones. Our guests are happy about these values. They convey constancy, home and give support, especially now. You have to skillfully combine innovation and tradition, because standing still means going backwards.
What did you miss most about this carnival season?
I have carnival in my head and confetti in my blood! We all miss to pass on the exuberant joie de vivre to the guests. Carnival is part of Düsseldorf's customs and is in the blood of almost every Rhinelander.
What does your personal Düsseldorf look like, which places and pubs do you like to visit?
Places that make Düsseldorf for me are the Carlsplatz, the Maxkirche, the Kö and the forests! Culinary it is the variety of star cuisine to the Büdchenkultur, from Japanese to Korean and Italian to the down-to-earth brewery.
Schumacher is your job and your family - do you still drink Alt in your private life?
Of course! "Everyone talks about drinking a lot, but no one talks about being very thirsty", this saying is on our beer coasters.
Here you can find the Schumacher in Düsseldorf
"Stammhaus": Oststraße 123, city center
"Im Goldenen Kessel": Bolkerstraße 44, Old Town
Current info and opening hours to the Schumacher can be found here.
Images: Schumacher, Header Thorsten Schmidtkord ("Lights out, spotlight on!")