A trio of East End riverside pubs (Wapping & Limehouse)

We love exploring London on foot, particularly East London. There’s always something to catch your eye in this area of contrasts — the strange mix of the very rich and the very poor, incredibly old buildings poking out between 1960s concrete blocks, five-for-a-pound samosas next to £50-a-pop sea-bass restaurants.

And if you’re interested in beer, pubs and/or brewing history, there’s stacks to see, if not necessarily to drink. About a year ago, we posted these photos of old Truman, Hanbury and Buxton signs. This time, the theme of our walk was riverside pubs. We didn’t plan a particular route or crawl, we just headed for the river around Wapping to see what we could see.

Firstly, we were intrigued to find ourselves on a Brewhouse Lane, just off Wapping High Street, which featured “improved industrial dwellings” from 1864 and Chimney court, complete with chimney. It definitely looks like an old brewery complex, but a bit of internet research hasn’t yet shed much light on which brewery, or when it was in operation. John Rocque’s 1747 map of London shows the street in exactly the same location. If anyone can shed any further light or even suggest where to go to get further information, we’d be grateful.

Our first beer stop was the Captain Kidd, on Wapping High Street, just behind Brewhouse Lane. This Sam Smith’s pub looks like it’s been there for centuries, but apparently only dates from the 1980s. They’ve made great use of the old building in which it’s housed, with big windows looking over the Thames. There’s also a small beer garden/yard. The usual Sam Smith’s selection is available, plus food. All in all, a really nice spot.

Wapping High Street continues east and becomes Wapping Wall. There you’ll find the famous Prospect of Whitby which dates from 1520 and claims to be the oldest riverside tavern. The place just oozes history and has lots of prime riverside views. In the summer,the small beer garden under the massive weeping willow is beautiful; in the winter, it’s a cosy place to look out onto the grey Thames and read your favourite East End Dickens scenes. The beer selection is unexciting (London Pride and Greene King products) but it’s in reasonably good nick.

After the Prospect of Whitby, we kept following the Thames Path eastward. Wapping becomes Limehouse and on Narrow Street we passed “The Narrow”, once the home of the Taylor Walker “Barley Mow brewery”, now a Gordon Ramsey gastropub. Maybe it’s nice, maybe it’s not. We didn’t go in.

The Grapes, further along Narrow Street, is claimed to be the inspiration (or one of the inspirations) for the “Six Jolly Fellowship Porters” pub in Our Mutual Friend. We’ve got no primary evidence to support this, but Zythophile is bold enough to repeat the suggestion. It’s definitely an old place (current building from 1720), with a great atmosphere and nice beers — among them, London Pride, TT Landlord and a guest, this time Bateman’s Valiant.

There’s a deck out the back where you can sit and hear (and occasionally feel) the Thames lapping up against the wall. It almost felt like we were beside the seaside, particularly with the stormy skies and choppy water. Bliss. The first photo in this post was taken there.

Boak

Notes

The Captain Kidd is at 108 Wapping High Street, E1W 2NE. Further west from here (no. 62) is another old pub, the Town of Ramsgate, which we found out about afterwards. That’s the disadvantage of being spontaneous and not planning.

The Prospect of Whitby is at 57 Wapping Wall, E1W 3SH. The nearest tube station for the Captain Kidd and the Prospect of Whitby would be Wapping, but it’s shut until 2010 for East London Line refurbishment. Try Docklands Light Railway to Shadwell instead. Or have a bit of a walk from the City. You’re bound to see something cool.

The Grapes is at 76 Narrow Street, E14 8BP. Closest public transport is Limehouse DLR station.

We didn’t have this walking guide from the local council yesterday. Might have been nice if we had!

Fraenkische Schweize (3) – the most idyllic beer garden in the world?

“Idyllisch” is a word our Wanderfuehrer likes to use. A lot. But the place that deserved it most, in our humble opinion, was the beer garden on top of the Staffelberg, a hill outside Bad Staffelstein.

The picture is our attempt to capture the view from the beer garden, across the valley. It doesn’t really do it justice. On tap is the wonderful hop-bomb that is St Georgen-Brau Kellerbier and the almost-as-good Pilsener. They also have Weissbier from the nearby Staffelberg-Braeu in bottles (not so exciting, but cold and refreshing enough). There are a few snacks available, including some very tasty and cheap home-made cake. What more can one ask?

Notes

To get there, it’s a steep hike uphill from Bad Staffelstein (follow the Mainz-Donau way) or a more gentle hour and a half walk along the Jakobsweg from Vierzehnheiligen.

Brauerei Neder, Forchheim

A sign for Forcheim.We stopped off at Neder-Brauerei on the way back from our Unterzaunsbach visit. Of all the breweries in Forchheim, we was most keen to try this, as we’d had a lovely beer from them in Landbierparadies in Nuremburg.

It was an interesting experience, to say the least.

The export beer itself is wonderful, with toffee-apple flavours, like a Belgian beer but less sticky, and with great hoppiness.

The pub is not really a place for the casual beer tourist, though, particularly if you’re under fifty. Boak was the only woman in the place (apart from the barmaid) which was also a bit weird. We’re getting used to being stared at when we go into these kinds of pubs, but this was taking it to a whole new level, with the whole room literally stopping what they were doing to gawp. This is definitely a local pub for local people.

We stuck it out for a pint, and it was fascinating to watch the interactions. Everyone has their regular table and their regular glass or krug. There were a couple of random nutters, who joined us on the non-regulars’ table. They first talked to each other, about us — our Ober-Fraenkisch is not good enough to work out what they were saying, but the subject matter was obvious (that is, one of them pointed straight at us and said: “Diese?”). Then one left, so the other stared and stared at us until we couldn’t avoid eye-contact anymore. We were trapped.

He was friendly enough, and seemed quite happy to chat to us in the knowledge that he couldn’t understand us, and we couldn’t understand him. It was a long and slightly painful conversation during which we learned two things:

1. He had lived and worked in Norway for a long time but never learned English while he was there.
2. Scottish people have red hair. All of them. He was insistent on this point.

Exploring the Fraenkische Schweiz (1) – Brauerei Meister, Unterzaunsbach

Contrary to what some guidebooks would have you believe, you can explore the Fraenkische Schweiz and get to many of the little breweries on your own two feet. There’s a useful branchline from Forchheim to Ebermannstadt, and loads of local buses. Best of all, there’s a network of (fairly) well marked paths, so with a good “Wanderkarte” you can improvise as you go along. Nowhere is particularly steep or tough going – you don’t need hiking boots or even expensive anoraks

There’s even a “Brauereien und Bierkellerweg” you can follow – it’s more designed for cyclists, but is a useful reference point

As a starting point, we bought “Ein neuer Wanderfuehrer fuer Biertrinker” by Dietrich Hoellhuber and Wolfgang Karl. They suggest 22 walks and profile around forty or fifty breweries and beer gardens. It’s a very useful little book, with hand-drawn maps, and important information about opening times of the breweries, and beer reviews too. Our German is not that great, but it’s not that difficult to follow the gist, although I do suggest getting a proper map of the area with the cycle/ walking routes marked to supplement it and work out where you are if you get lost

We tried walk 21, a circular walk from Pretzfeld to the supposedly amazing Penning-Zeissler brewery in Hetzelsdorf, having checked with the book that the day wasn’t a “Ruhetag”. It was a really lovely walk, through orchards of pears and cherries and fields of barley. Unfortunately, when we got to Hetzelsdorf, the brewery had decided that Monday was going to be a Ruhetag as well as Tuesday. Moral of the story – phone before you leave

However, having a look at the map and the book, we improvised a new route back, via the little village of Unterzaunsbach. After an hour or so of getting lost in a wood, we found ourselves outside the front door of Brauerei Meister. It appeared to be open.

We went in, slightly nervously. There was an old lady sitting at the table, who must have been over a hundred. After greeting each other, she shouted into the kitchen, and a younger lady (still over seventy) came out to serve us. She was slightly bemused by us, but spotted our “Wanderfuehrer”, said something in an impenetrable local dialect (probably “I know your type”) and smiled.

The brewery does a Vollbier and a Zwicklbier on tap. We think that the Zwickl is an unfiltered version of the Vollbier, i.e. not a different recipe. Both were amazing, obviously. Very ale-like, both in colour and bitterness. Very full malt flavours infused with orange and perhaps some smokiness too. With the Zwickl, you seem to get the different flavours more slowly.

We said nice things about the beer, and she gave us a beer mat and a box of matches.
They do food and bierschnapps too. Incidentally, there’s a bus-stop over the road, so I imagine you could get a bus directly here from Forchheim too. But I bet the beer wouldn’t taste as amazing…

Boak

Brauerei Meister is at Unterszaunsbach 8, D-91362 Pretzfeld. I was very surprised to find that they have a website, which you can find here. I don’t think it’s been updated for a while, though.

Here’s a link to find out more about the Fraenkische Schweiz, including a list of 72 breweries in the area.

Bamberg revisited

You don’t need us to tell you about the pubs in Bamberg. I’m sure you’ve all “been there, done that”, and if not, you’re planning to.

That said, I don’t think you could ever “do” Bamberg. If you stuck to just “doing” the brewery taps, you’d miss out on lovely cosy pubs and idyllic beer gardens in and around the town. Then there are all the pubs with brews from nearby villages, then day trips to places like Buttenheim, Forchheim, Eggolsheim… then the hundreds of pubs in surrounding villages.

We don’t want to bore you with all the beers we had in Bamberg this time round, but here are our top five drinking experiences, in no particular order.

1. Lunch at Griefenklau Greifenklau

You don’t hear much about Griefenklau Greifenklau – I don’t think I’ve seen their livery outside of their outlet on Laurentziplatz. We suspect the locals want to keep this one to themselves. It’s a fair hike up a hill, but definitely worth it, as the beer garden is beautiful, with great views across the wood to the Altenburg. It’s a very mixed crowd, from grandparents with children to business people. The beer is very fresh and satisfying. Possibly not the most complex in town, but with a garden like this, who cares?

A similarly beautiful spot is the Spezial Bier-Garten on Steinwartstrasse (listed in the Bavaria Lonely Planet guide). You can’t beat this place for the view across town, especially at twilight. The beer itself is very subtle –- you only notice the smoke flavour when it warms up a bit. And they don’t do the full range of Spezial beers — you need to go to the outlet on Obere Koenigstrasse for that.

2. Mahrs Brau Ungespundete

This was the first beer of the holiday that made our eyes pop out and caused us to make ‘mmmmm’ noises (perhaps we’re getting jaded?). It’s copper coloured and extremely fruity, with peaches, cherries, cloves and liquorice. There’s a good hop flavour as it goes down, which balances the roastiness and oakiness. They also do a lovely weizen, which is (without being advertised as such) a bit smoky.

3. Reacquainting ourselves with Schlenkerla

We’ve been drinking Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Maerzen from bottles in London during the last year or two and, although we always enjoy it, it sometimes seems a bit one-dimensional. Not as fresh as it is from the tap, where the crazy smokiness is just one flavour beautifully balanced with a lot of others. We sat outside under a tree, listening to a university orchestra rehearsing in a nearby building, and sighed with contentment.

4. Discovering Keesmann Stern-la

Keesmann are another brewery we’d not heard much about. Their beers are on the commercial side — a bit ‘cleaner’, maybe — but we were very impressed by Stern-la. It’s an unfiltered lager but was very clear in the glass and a dark golden colour, with a lot of sweet malt flavour. We’d expected something as rubbish as, say, Ingolstadt’s Ingobrau and it’s always a treat to be pleasantly surprised.

5. Afternoon session at Klosterbrau

You know how much difference a pleasant waiter can make? Our waitress on the sunny afternoon we spent here was great. “Nice beer?” she asked with a smile as we swooned over the seasonal bock. “Yes!” we said. She smiled and looked delighted. “All is well with the world,” we said to each other several times. Although the bock might have had something to do with that, too.
Notes

As is usually the case, Ron‘s guide to Bamberg pubs is a great place to start researching your own crawls. Links have been included where appropriate, but neither Keesmann nor Griefenklau Greifenklau seem to have a homepage. UPDATED. Griefenklau don’t have a homepage but Greifenklau do.