Session #134: Zum Biergarten

For the 134th edition of The Session, in which beer bloggers around the world write on the same topic, Tom Cizauskas has asked us to think about beer gardens.

A good beer garden is a kind of fairy tale that allows you to wallow in summer, and to imagine yourself above or outside the modern world.

We first became aware of how magical a German beer garden could be after Jessica went to the World Cup in 2006 and came back in love with the Englischer Garten in Munich where she saw thousands of football fans served litre after litre of Helles with unruffled efficiency.

A sunny beer garden.

When we think of Germany, we think of beer gardens: the high altitude majesty of the garden at the top of the Staffelberg; the backup garden of Würzburger Hofbräu we found by accident, which feels as if it’s deep in a forest despite the ring road on the other side of the hedge; or the riverside idyll of the Spitalbrauerei in Regensburg where this blog was born.

Continue reading “Session #134: Zum Biergarten”

Time Out's guide to beer gardens

Beautifully timed for the heatwave, Time Out has published its guide to the best 20 beer gardens in London.

We’d been planning to compile a similar list for a while (two years or so…) but never got round to it, not least because most decent beer gardens tend to be out in the suburbs.  There are certainly a few in here that we’ve been meaning to go to for ages — the Florence in Herne Hill and Stein’s in Richmond, for example.  But then, when one of the best gardens in London is on your doorstep (The Nags Head, Walthamstow) it can be difficult to get on a stuffy Tube to venture elsewhere.

Five great beer gardens in Würzburg

A pint of Wuerzburger Hofbrau Pils

1. Würzburger Hofbräukeller, Höchberger Straße 28

Where better to drink the stuff than at the brewery tap?  It’s a little walk out of the centre (about 10-15 minutes from the old bridge), but well worth it for the enormous garden.  This place inspired our latest trip — we thought about where we would most like to be in the world and planned the excursion around it.

2. Würzburger Hofbräu, Talaveraschlosschen

Another huge, leafy beer garden, next to a funny little building off the Mainausstrasse, in between the Friedensbrücke and the Brücke der Deutschen Einheit.

3. Biergarten an der Residenz (Würzburger Hofbräu)

This is basically a little scrap of wasteland next to the world-famous Residenz, but it shows how all you need is a couple of trees and a wooden shed to set up a beer garden. Not at all posh but nonetheless lovely.

4. Nikolashof and 5. Schutzenhof

These are both situated in the woods behind the Festung Marienburg, and have fabulous views across town.  Schutzenhof offers cheap and trashy schnitzels for all the family, whereas Nikolashof fancies itself a bit more, with a Japanese garden and rhubarb brulee on the menu.

The ticker may be particularly interested in Schutzenhof as it offers products from Wernecker, including Laurentius, an unfiltered Märzen beer brewed specially for the garden.  We didn’t care for it that much, but it’s nice to know it’s there.

To get to both places on foot, do not follow the signs, which are for road traffic and take you the long way round.  Instead, head for the Käppele from Nikolausstrasse, go up the steps behind it and you’ll find yourself on a little path that takes you first past the Nikolashof and then to the Schutzenhof (they’re about a five minute walk apart).

The Good Bierkeller Guide

biergartenbook

There are quite a few guides in German aimed at people who like beer gardens, but we think we’ve found the best.

Frankens Schoenste Bierkeller and Biergarten by Markus Raupach and Bastian Böttner is a weighty but handily sized guide to the most attractive gardens and pubs in Franconia. Even though our German is rudimentary, we found it easy to follow. For each city, town and village in Franconia, it suggests between two and twenty decent places to drink. It lists the beers on offer; gives details of how to to get to each boozer on public transport; and offers special tips for each one (Excellent asparagus menu in season! Particularly nice dunkel! Wonderful panoramic views from the terrace! And so on).

If you’re a regular visitor to Franconia, we’d say it’s a must, and a bargain at €16.95.

And its endless photos of green, sunlit beer gardens aren’t a bad way to cheer yourself up after a journey home from work in the rain, either.

In search of the authentic tapas bar experience: (1) North West London

Olives and Estrella Galicia in a shady bar in London
Olives and Estrella Galicia in a shady bar in London

En espanol

We tend to go to Spain around this time each year. However, due to starting new jobs etc we haven’t been able to plan anything, and so we started thinking about how to replicate some of the best Spanish experiences in London. In particular, we’re on a mission to identify all of the authentic tapas bars in London, ideally gathered together in convenient tapeos (tapas bar crawls).

Let’s make it clear: we’re not talking about restaurants that serve tapas or Spanish food. We’re talking about places where you can have a nice chat over some drinks and a tapa or two. Ideally, we’re looking for places where you can sit up at the bar and listen to old men bickering in impenetrable dialects, to get the real feel of being in Spain.

So, after a bit of internet research, we put together the following tapeo in north west London, an area we barely know. Continue reading “In search of the authentic tapas bar experience: (1) North West London”

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.

Fraenkische Schweiz (2) – Brauerei Trunk / Vierzehnheiligen

Want to get some of that Franconian village Hausbrauerei action without much of a hike? Then Brauerei Trunk is for you. Because it’s behind the monastery at Vierzehnheiligen, there are frequentish buses and short, well-signposted walking routes from Lichtenfels and Bad Staffelstein.

Being next to a tourist attraction, the Alte Klosterbrauerei (as it’s also known) is open every day, so you don’t need to worry about going all that way for nothing. Our Wanderfuerer makes some kind of snotty remark about “viele Senioren-Busreisen” (lots of old people’s bus excursions) but we thought it was quite nice to go somewhere where there were some other people.

It’s a lovely beer garden, which overlooks the Basilika. The beer’s pretty good too; we had the Dunkles-Export and the “Ernte” Bier. The latter (“harvest beer”) is made with three types of grain including rye and was very tasty, with a wonderful fruity aroma and hints of cherries in the taste. There are also snacks available. It’s all self-service, with a deposit on the glasses.

The obatzda is so dirty. Mmmmmmmmm… dirty obatzda.

Notes

Lichtenfels and Bad Staffelstein are on the main Bamberg-Coburg railway line; more trains stop at Lichtenfels. To pick up the path from Lichtenfels, turn right out of the station and keep following Bamberger Strasse until the town runs out — it takes a while, but don’t give up. There’s a MacDonald’s on the outskirts, and about here you’ll see a sign off on the left to the monastery. It’s a 30-40 minute walk in total from the station. Or you can get a bus or taxi.

Basilika Vierzehnheiligen itself is architecturally significant and built by Balthasar Neumann. If you’re into baroque tat, you’ll love it.

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.

Mainz Pt 2. — a Bridge too Far

We were tipped off the existence of a second, out-of-the-way brewpub in Mainz by this website.

Brauhaus Castel is in Mainz-Kastel, on the other side of the Rhine and technically in another state (Hesse, rather than Rhineland-Pfalz). We walked, enjoying the beautiful sunset over a river full of huge cargo barges, and the sound of Greece vs Russia on the air from the open air screens by the river.

It took a while, once we’d detoured around the, erm, ‘grey’ bit on the map.

If you take on this trek yourself, head for the middle stretch of the Otto-Suhr Ring where it meets Boelckestrasse and turn right past KFC, the Beate Uhse out-of-town erotic superstore and some open country, and you’ll find the pub nestled in a quiet corner off the main road.

It’s got a great atmosphere. Perhaps a bit kitsch inside, but with some nice trellises and plants outside that create a far more Arcadian feel than the industrial-estate surroundings might suggest.

The beer? Not so good, to be frank. The dunkel reminded us of our homebrew (not always a good thing) and had too much crystal malt. The EM Special (a European Championship seasonal) was a bit sweet, boasting “light hopping” on the menu. The wheat beer was the best of the bunch, with lots of banana aromas and a nice punch of bitterness.

We can’t, in all honesty, recommend trekking out here, but if you’re stuck in Mainz for any length of time, or are just an incorrigible ticker, it’s worth a visit.

Our top tip: the much more convenient and just as idyllic beer garden in the grounds of the Roman museum by the river (on Grosse Bleiche), where we very much enjoyed the Erbacher Pils. It looks like another dull regional lager, but knocked our socks off with a lot of bitterness and tons of what might almost have been Goldings aroma. We were surrounded by grand, red baroque buildings and serenaded by a scarily proficient youth orchestra. And, what’s more, a proportion of our spend went to maintaining the museum.