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.

Wuerzburg part 2 – Wuerzburger Hofbrau

Wuerzburger Hofbrau dominate the town. Their logo is all over the place, and is one of the first things you see when you get out of the station. They also have three beers in Michael Jackson’s “Great Beer Guide” (aka The 500).

Their Ausschank is over the river, on the Marienburg side, in an enormous beer garden. The pub and garden combined probably has the capacity for several thousand people.

We wonder whether Michael Jackson may have been (overly) influenced by the wonderful surroundings, because although his selections from the Wuerzburger offerings are very nice, they’re not that special, in our humble opinion. For example, the Schwarzbier was better than say, Koestritzer, but still tasted mostly like fizzy watered-down treacle. The dunkleweiss was also not that exciting – rather sweet and unbalanced.

However, there are loads of other offerings at the Ausschank. The Zwickl lives up to potential, being a nice fruity, partially cloudy lager. It’s refreshing, with a long aftertaste. And once again, the pils did well – it’s very bitter and aromatic. It’s nice having all these great pils – it can be such a boring style.

Finally, we had “Werner Alt-Fraenkischer Dunkel”. Werner were taken over by Wuerburger in 1999, according to their website. This was a luvverly drop, toasty, nutty and ale-like.

All in all, worth the walk as it’s a delightful beer garden with lovely beer.

PS – if you’re going from Heidelberg to Wuerzburg, you can do it for just eight euros by getting a couple of local trains and going via Osterburken. It only takes a little longer than going via Frankfurt, and is 36 euros cheaper, plus it goes up the Neckar valley and is much more picturesque. Just thought this information should be somewhere on the web in English.

Wuerzburg part 1 – Distelhaeuser @ Alte Mainzmuehle Gasthof

We’ve been to Wuerzburg before, and thoroughly enjoyed the place, so we scheduled a stopover this time round. We’ve drunk in most of the places in Ron’s guide but we had a couple of aims this time. Firstly, to visit the Wuerzburger Hof brewery tap, and secondly to revisit one of our favourite restaurant-pubs, the Alte Mainzmuehle.

This is situated right on the old bridge, overlooking the Main. It’s more of a restaurant than a pub, but it’s not stuffy or formal. It’s worth mentioning because the food is a cut above what you normally get in pubs, without being pricy or pretentious. You can get hearty German food or lighter alternatives.

They have a full range from Distelhaeuser on tap. The Landbier is extremely refreshing – it’s not very carbonated, and has hints of liquorice, despite being pale. The “dinkel” is golden-brown, with a thick body and hints of chocolate. We think it’s a bit stronger than the rest, possibly slightly bock-y, and they only serve it in 0.5l krugs. We’d assumed that “Dinkel” was a funny regional variation on “Dunkel”, but in fact it’s German for “spelt”, and is indeed made from that grain. It’s lovely, complex stuff.

The Weizen is wonderful – as well as the usual banana and clove, there a hints of pineapple and peach, with more hops than usual. Not sweet either, which is great.

The pils was a pleasant surprise – we were expecting this to be more boring, but it had a good sulphurous nose, a fruity-spicy-malt flavour (peach, fennel) and a lovely bitter finish. Clean, yet complex, with a long aftertaste.

We’re intrigued by Distelhaeuser. They’ve obviously moved beyond the quaint village Hausbrauerei stage, given they have a number of outlets in Wuerzburg, but they’re clearly keen to maintain Franconian traditions (having a Landbier, for example) and rant against mass production on their beer mats. The Dinkel beer shows a willingness to innovate as well.

A visit to Speyer

Speyer is a nice day trip from Heidelberg, particularly on a rainy day. There’s a huge cathedral and a great Technik museum where you can climb on old Russian Antonov transporter planes and look close up at a bewildering array of fire engines, limousines, trains and submarines.

On the beer front, there’s the Domhof Hausbrauerei just behind the cathedral which serves up some rather bitter and interesting brews. The dunkles is very much like a Duesseldorf alt, albeit one of the less distinguished ones (Schloesser?). It’s got a bit of sweet crystal, but not too much. The helles reminded us of Young’s bitter, but fizzier – really rather refreshing when we got our heads round it. So, darker beers, on the bitter side, and worth the trip.

They don’t seem to get many English tourists, though, especially those under 50, so we attracted some attention from the locals who were trying to guess where we were from and why on Earth we were there…

Drinking in Heidelberg

Anyone who tells you that Britain has some kind of monopoly on binge drinking and rowdiness obviously hasn’t been to this borderline twee university city. Perhaps it was the football, or maybe the warm weather, but the local youths were certainly full of beans as they barreled around the old town knocking back tequila and chanting:

“Jawohl, jawohl – ich liebe alcohol!”

Which is not to say that it was remotely threatening. Rather charming, in fact. They were probably singing the same song at the university of Heidelberg in the 19th century. At least these days they don’t cap a session in the pub by dueling and scarring each others faces.

We spent a couple of lunchtimes in local brewpubs which, again, we found through this website.

Vetters is the best pub in terms of atmosphere and we were impressed by their relatively adventurous approach. Their seasonal special, “Heidelberg Frisch” is a Koelsch-style “obergaeriges” beer served in 200ml stick glasses – something we’ve never seen outside Cologne before. They also offer a ludicrously strong barley-wine type beer, Vetters 33. This has an original gravity of 33%, pours black with a brown/yellow head (saffron!?) and tastes mostly of treacle cut with vodka. Not that nice, in itself, but a refreshing change from the endless premium pilsners…

Scheffel’s Kulturbrauerei is a bit snooty inside, though it has a nice garden, where we took this picture. Their range includes a remarkably good kellerbier which, once again, reminded us of an Alt, or perhaps of a Belgian special. It was amber coloured, bitter and with a lot of orange flavours. The krauzenbier was good, too – very light, almost Hoegaarden like, with grapefruit and lemon flavours. We thought it might be missing a bit of malt flavour, though.

There are plenty of other pubs in Heidelberg – Unterer Strasse (parallel to Hauptstrasse and the Neckar river, up near the Marktplatz) is a good place to start, with a range of places from young and trendy to old and trad. There’s a place where you can get a range of Hoepfner brews, although unfortunately not their porter.

Notes

Vetter im Schoeneck is on Steingasse, just off the Marktplatz leading down to the Neckar. Kulturbrauerei is on Leyergasse, parallel to Steingasse about four streets east. Both are handily listed in the Lonely Planet guide to Germany.