In Frankfurt, we’re told, Apfelwein is the thing to drink rather then the rather bland local pilsners. Similarly Stuttgart, the capital of Baden-Württemberg, is surrounded by vineyards, and seems more proud of its wine than its beer.
Nonetheless, there are several breweries in town, and even more brewery brands (takeovers), and so plenty to keep a beer geek entertained, if not necessarily happy, for a few days.
We know from our own experience that German city brewpubs are often disappointing, with sweet, yeasty beers that make us long for a properly made lager, however bland. Ron Pattinson’s European Beer Guide gave us no reason to expect differently of Stuttgart, but – the curse of the beer freak – we just had to find out for ourselves.
There’s not much to say about Calwer Eck’s beer other than it was soupy, sweet and rather amateurish. The stronger, barley-water-like Braumeister (5.5% ABV) had marginally more character than the ‘naturtrübes’ pils (5%), but that isn’t necessarily a recommendation. (The food wasn’t much good either, including schnitzels which we guessed came from a packet in the deep freeze, and a ‘beer sauce’ which tasted suspiciously like instant gravy.)
We found Sophie’s Brauhaus a little more enjoyable, which isn’t saying much. From the outside, it looked like a knocking shop (red neon…) but inside, we found a reasonably cosy space full of excitable students, mostly drinking rather than eating. The pleasant pub-like atmosphere compelled us to stay for a second round, after which whatever charms we had found in the beer (the novelty of a Schwarzbier, and one that actually tasted dark, perhaps?) began to fade.
Despite the ubiquity of huge glowing signs advertising Stuttgarter Hofbräu, we didn’t see their pils for sale anywhere other than fast food joints and at the football stadium. If anyone knows the story behind why this might be the case, we’d love to hear it. (Something to do with being owned by Radeberger, perhaps?)
The fact that we didn’t stumble upon any Schwaben Bräu is perhaps more understandable: the brewery merged with another local giant, Dinkelacker, some years ago, and, though SB beers are still brewed, they seem to be ‘second stringers’. The exception is the classy, coffeeish ‘Das Schwarze’, which was a favourite of Michael Jackson’s, and is on sale at the Dinkelacker brewery tap (a plasticky place on Tübingerstrasse) alongside a slightly-hazy Kellerpils under the Cluss brand (fancy delicate glass, distinct strawberry-leaf hoppiness) and a solid set of ‘Sanwald’ wheat beers.
Dinkelacker’s own brand is reserved for the mainstream big-sellers, CD and Privat, both perfectly pleasant pilsners at 4.9% and 5.1% respectively, with the emphasis firmly on golden-syrup-maltiness. Not hugely exciting, but not utterly bland either, and certainly not nasty.
It felt odd to be in a German city where beer is treated either as a replacement for water, or a sideshow to wine, which has its own museum and designated walking route, but we know, really, that Germany is far too large and complex to be summed up simply as a ‘beer country’.