A short bus ride from the yachts and ice cream parlours of Lake Constance, up in the hills, lie the fields where the world famous Tettnang hops are grown, along with a small museum erected in their honour.
The HopfenMuseum is easy to find, sitting at the end of a walking route marked by information boards bearing the smiling (sinister) face of Hopfi, the badly-drawn local cartoon mascot. We visited after the hop harvest and so found the fields bare, the wind causing the wires supporting the huge poles to whine pathetically. It was not as bleak as it might look from the picture above: tons of efficiently cultivated apples, pears and elderberries were still on their branches, providing Technicolor highlights.
On entering the whitewashed farm building, we were struck at once by the most delicious aroma of recently-packed hops — as intense as that perfume fog that makes it hard to breathe in branches of Lush, only (for beer freaks, at least) much more pleasant.
Now, there are two main types of museum, as we see it: gleaming, grant-funded interactive learning experiences; and wonky local clutterfests with shop mannequins in moth-eaten costumes. The HopfenMuseum is of the latter variety — charming, but by no means slick.
The terrifying Hopfensau — much better than Hopfi.
One of the highlights is a gallery overlooking the hop-processing line with a cheesy video which explains how the picking, plucking and drying machines do their thing. Elsewhere, we appreciated the numerous items of ephemera — labels, sacks, posters and so on — and anecdotes and photographs of the days when hop-picking was a working holiday for town and city dwellers.
Bowls of hops gave us the opportunity to rub and sniff new varieties Mandarin and Polaris, part of an attempt by German growers to compete with American hops. Mandarin smelled like mandarins (or was that the power of suggestion?), while Polaris seemed to have a more complex pine-and-pith aroma.
At the end of our tour, we stopped, of course, for a drink at the on-site pub — a large wood-beamed, cosy place, crammed with elderly people on coach tours enjoying coffee and cake. The beer list is extensive, however, with specialities from all over the region in bottles, as well as a few ‘craft beers’ from Braufactum, and even a couple of US imports. We found a corner and ordered two glasses of the beer of the month, Meckatzer Zwicklbier, supposedly brewed with fresh Tettnang hops. Dark orange, cloudy, it tasted more of porridge than beer, and hops were little in evidence.
Back in Tettnang itself, we found a much better showcase for the local product in Kronen (Tettnanger) Keller-pils, which we enjoyed with Maultaschen (the local dumpling dish) at the brewery tap. It was truly bitter and intensely perfumed, but not at all flowery. Leafy, perhaps? We were reminded of the burst of fresh greenness that comes from tomato plants when they’re brushed against in a greenhouse. A real change from grapefruit/mango/peach/orange axis, at any rate. Perhaps, before they get on to IPAs, more German breweries should ensure they have a beer like this in their range?
An adult ticket for the HopfenMuseum costs €5 and it is open from 1 May until 31 October. If you want to see hops on the bines, visit before late summer. You can read more about Tettnang, the museum, and local traditions in Stan Hieronymus’s For the Love of Hops, which is where we heard about it.