Franconia Germany

Impressions of Nuremberg: red beer, grey stone

A proper dodgy station, like all proper cities have, its plaza reeking of urine and scattered with beer bottles. Old hands rummaging in its bins, searching for treasure. Have fun in our city, the gateway says – have a drink or two, by all means – but don’t let it take you. Under the ring road, through the old city wall, and into a party on the move. Is it the last night of the year for a T-shirt, or the first for scarves and gloves? Wegbiers there and here. Döners here and there. Cream-coloured taxis nosing through crowds forced out into the street from hot bars with hot red lights. Cut back, cut in, head upward by alleyway and rat run, until you reach fresh air and hear the running of the river.

The front of the Altstadthof in grey stone.

The Altstadthof is important to us. It’s where we first got really excited about beer. Where we first thought we might be learning something, and testing our limits. This Rotbier, we said, is exciting. But why? It didn’t smell of pine or peach. It wasn’t funky, sour, or smoky. There was some completeness, some understated complexity, that shook us. Maybe it was just the magic of being on holiday, we thought, and so made a point of going back a little later, in 2008, when we imagined ourselves to be more worldly and critically astute. It still thrilled. Now, 14 years on… well, we liked it, we suppose. It’s chewy and round in the mouth but a little mucky, too. More Hamburg brewpub amber than we remember from before. Lesson learned: never look up your first love.

Wild hops

Hang on – is the river called the Rednitz, the Pegnitz or the Regnitz? All three are right. The Pegnitz joins the Rednitz to form the Regnitz at Fürth. You can walk to Fürth along the Pegnitz, past bike lanes, flood plains and barbecue bins; past football training grounds and surfers on the weir; past wild hops having their way with industrial ruins. River path becomes suburban park, with beer gardens, bandstands and hangry geese. Somewhere in the distance, a brass ensemble is playing the kind of strident striding-out march that you might have thought had gone out of fashion in Germany. Everyone is drifting towards the sound, into town, following the smell of smoke and candyfloss.

Crowds against a funfair with smoke in the air.

We didn’t plan to go to Fürth during Michaelis-Kirchweih, St Michael’s Fair, but we’re glad we did. It’s not a beer festival except insofar as any festival in Bavaria is bound to be. Between fairground rides and shooting galleries there were temporary bars and beer halls selling every local brand. It was all wonderfully tacky but, crucially, not insincere or exploitative. We ate fried potato pancakes to line our stomachs and then found a corner of a table in an Olde Rusticke hut that wasn’t there a week before. We were impressed by Grüner Vollbier Hell, a local brand now brewed by Tucher (Radeberger). Pale and grainy, flowery and fresh, wholesome and just clean enough to wash away the smoke from the grill that made the town centre feel like a Napoleonic battlefield.

An underground station in Nuremberg with orange and white tiles.

Nuremberg is, in some ways, an American city. As in, you’re never more than six feet from an American, or a party of them. Loud Americans Facetiming over their lunch, checking in with the folks back home: “We just got in from Vienna!” Quiet Americans with neat hair muttering heck and gosh and leaving most of their dinner on the plate. Something something Bible school. When they ask the waiters “What light beers do you have?” the waiters are ready, and bring glasses of Helles, along with menus in English. These feel like the very final traces of a very long war.

The brown and rustic interior of Hutt'n

We’d spotted Wirtshaus Hutt’n from the Altstadthof across the road and decided to visit even before Twitter started telling us to go. It’s one of those German catering machines – a beer hall with multiple rooms decorated to resemble an Alpine lodge. We were intercepted at the door and not-so-gently steered into the international dining section, away from the locals in their boozer. It looked like fun in there. Hutt’n’s own Rotbier was good: sweeter and less herbal than Altstadthof’s. The Helles was rustic, characterful, and other synonyms for rough. The real draw here, though, is a list of Franconian beers on draught. Brauerei Neder’s Schwarze Anna was a highlight of the trip: rustic, characterful, and other synonyms for mysteriously brilliant. Franconian best mild. Altes Peculier.

A mural on the side of a school featuring a mug of beer.

German cities have two lives. There’s the Old Town, its limits preserved in stone, where the coach parties and refrigeration conference delegates mingle under ancient (rebuilt) church spires. And there’s the world outside the walls, beyond the ring road, where the illusion ends. Tram tracks. Apartment blocks half a mile long. Pushchairs, cargo bikes, walking frames and removals vans. There are more pizza takeaways than pubs. The churches are just as big but are built in concrete, red brick and clean glass, with Aldi on one side and a Getränkemarkt on the other. There, in the car park, disloyal locals load their cars with crates of foreign beer from alien nations such as Saxony and the Rhineland – after a bit of strange.

The beer garden at Landbierparadies with a block of flats behind.

We struggled to understand Landbierparadies when we visited a branch more than a decade ago. What is Landbier? Back then, we wondered if it had a status a little like ‘real ale’ in the UK. Some way out of town, among the flats and playgrounds of Leipziger Straße, we found a beer hall that felt more like a working men’s club, or a rural community centre. Plain dark wood. Plain tables. No music. One beer on draught. “Zwei Landbier,” we said. “Zwei Landbier,” replied the barman-waiter-manager. As we drank Hetzelsdorfer Vollbier (clean, crisp, metallic, grassy, grainy) the tables around us filled up with older men. Some shuffled cards and started playing with surprising aggression. Others debated, teased each other and laughed. Almost everyone drank the draught beer, one mug after another – keep ‘em coming, son.

A pork knuckle with crackling and dumpling.

Nürnberger Rostbratwurst, three in a bed. Buttered pretzels. Pink cuboids of liver sausage in elliptical bread rolls. Pork knuckle, Schnitzel, meat and two dumplings, help yourself to Senf, don’t spill your gravy. Lads in lederhosen trampling Sauerkraut on the carnival cart. Noch zwei! That’s one way. And there are falafels and kebabs, of course, in brightly lit restaurants where men who don’t drink gather to binge on sandwiches instead. “Is it good?” Shrug. “Döner ist Döner ist Döner.” Hunch and bite, chips into dips, shreds of cabbage falling like autumn leaves. One sandwich down… noch zwei!

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Franconia Germany News

News, Nuggets & Longreads 12 May 2018: Bass, Bavaria, Bambini

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer and pubs in the past week, from the masculinity of beer to the fascination of Bass.

Dea Latis, an industry group dedicated to promoting beer to women, and challenging the idea that beer is a male preserve. It commissioned a study from YouGov into women’s attitudes to beer which is summarised here, with a link to the full report:

Beer Sommelier and Dea Latis director Annabel Smith said: “We know that the beer category has seen massive progress in the last decade – you only need to look at the wide variety of styles and flavours which weren’t available widely in the UK ten years ago. Yet it appears the female consumer either hasn’t come on the same journey, or the beer industry just isn’t addressing their female audience adequately. Overtly masculine advertising and promotion of beer has been largely absent from media channels for a number of years but there is a lot of history to unravel. Women still perceive beer branding is targeted at men.”

We’ve already linked to this once this week but why not a second time? It’s a substantial bit of work, after all.

There’s some interesting commentary on this, too, from Kirst Walker, who says: “If we want more women in the beer club, we have to sweep up the crap from the floors and admit that flowers are nice and it pays not to smell of horse piss. How’s that for a manifesto?”

Bass Pale Ale mirror, Plymouth.

Ian Thurman, AKA @thewickingman, was born and brought up in Burton-upon-Trent and has a lingering affection for Bass. He has written a long reflection on this famous beer’s rise and fall accompanied by a crowd-sourced directory of pubs where it is always available:

It’s difficult for me to be unemotional about Draught Bass. It was part of growing up in Burton. But what are the facts.

The EU AB InBev careers’ website accurately describes the relative importance of their brands to the company.

“The UK has a strong portfolio of AB InBev brands. This includes, global brands, Stella Artois and Budweiser, international brands, Beck’s, Leffe and Hoegaarden, as well as local brands, including Boddingtons and Bass.”

We’re fascinated by the re-emergence of the Cult of Bass as a symbol of a certain conservative attitude to pubs and beer. You might regard this article as its manifesto.

Franconia Germany videos

VIDEO: Bavarian Brewing, 1910

Footage (mostly) from 1910 of the brand new Humbser Brewery in Fürth, near Nuremberg, with a rather unnecessary voice-over.

PS. We’re not sure of the ethics of embedding this one — obviously ripped from Bavarian TV, but we’re assuming that’s a problem for YouTube and, anyway, it’s mostly made up of what must now be public domain footage.

Beer styles Franconia opinion

What Gives a Beer Value?

A chart showing relative values we place on beers.

This is another attempt to ‘graph our relationship with beer‘. This time, it’s about capturing the various qualities that give a particular beer value in our eyes.

  • Sentiment: homesickness, happy memories, family connections.
  • Taste: how nice is it?
  • Complexity: and how deep?
  • Tradition: does it connect us with history and a particular culture? (Cask ale does this.)
  • Value: i.e. value for money.
  • Rarity: how likely are we to find this beer again any time soon?
  • Novelty: Schlenkerla’s smoked maerzen scores highly here.
  • Sessionability: we like beers we can drink a few of.
  • Refreshment: sometimes, we want beer to quench our thirst and cool us down.

For example, we know, objectively speaking, that Butcombe’s cask bitter isn’t the world’s best beer but, nonetheless, we value it more highly than almost as highly as Duvel. That sounds nuts, right? But we’re not saying it’s as great a a better beer, only that, for us, a pint of Butcombe Bitter is tied up with happy times in Somerset pubs with Bailey’s parents (sentiment); and, especially when we lived in London, it had a certain rarity value.

Even we were surprised to see that St Austell’s Black Prince Mild has the highest value of any beer on the chart, but then again, it is remarkably rare; gives us a powerful sense of engaging with brewing tradition; taps into all the sentimental associations we make with mild-loving grandparents; and is a wonderful session beer.

Schlenkerla Maerzen scores highly because, not only does smoked beer have novelty value, and a taste we happen to like, but even the merest whiff of it transports us back to Bamberg.

We could record marks for every beer we drink against this system. It might be interesting to see, after a year or two, which ends up having the most ‘value’, and whether we would also consider it our favourite beer.

Franconia Germany

Memorable Beers #8: World Cup 2006

Kauzen beer glass with owl logo.

By Boak.

I was lucky enough to spend two weeks at the World Cup in Germany in 2006 with various friends. We had tickets for five games but also made a point of watching every other match we could in pubs, restaurants and beer gardens.  As you might expect, there were many memorable beer occasions, but the one that sticks with me most is spending a few days in Rothenburg ob der Tauber between matches.  Even in those pre-blogging days, I was sufficiently interested in beer to want to try as many as possible, whereas my main travelling companion was a fan of “normal lager, like normal people drink”.

We camped out in the back room of a café that specialised in Flammkuchen to watch all three of the day’s matches, while the staff brought us pint after pint of Ochsenfurter Kauzenbrau, which I found remarkably delicious.  Unfortunately, as my friend did the ordering, I have no idea which one of their range it was (“I just ordered normal beer”). I drank at least six pints, way more than usual — it was just impossible to stop.  Serious nectar-of-the-Gods territory, with a deep malt flavour that I sometimes think I can still taste. They were three very memorable matches, too, particularly the Czech Republic vs USA, made even more enjoyable by the banter with three Americans on the table in front of us.

The disappointing postscript to this is that, on a subsequent trip to Franconia, I dragged Bailey round every pub we could in and around Rothenburg until we found the legendary brew that I’d been banging on about. It turned out to be…OK.  Possibly my biggest ever beer let down, and more evidence, perhaps, of “the time, the place”.

Other beery highlights from the world cup include watching a Germany match in the Englischer Garten in Munich, where the efficient German machine managed to serve more than 3000 litres during half time.