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.

Beers of the Year

An irrelevant photo of an old Guinness marketing gewgaw in Clapham, South London
An irrelevant photo of an old Guinness marketing gewgaw in Clapham, South London

This year, we’ve been all over the place, including almost a full month in Germany, so we’ve had plenty of opportunity to stretch our palates (corrective surgery scheduled for the New Year). After some bickering in the pub, and in no particular order, here are the 10 beers we’ve tried and enjoyed the most in 2008.

  1. Uerige Alt — like a British ale, but not, thanks to some subtle, intangible quality of the yeast and the wonderful, alien manners and customs of the Duesseldorf pub scene.
  2. Oakham Hawse Buckler — dark, strong, heavy, hoppy as Hell, with that combination of chocolate orange/coffee and grapefruit people either love or hate.
  3. Zywiec Porter — was this sticky, treacly Baltic porter as good as we thought, or were we just delighted to finally get our hands on it after a couple of years hunting?
  4. Brewdog Punk IPA — smart marketing means we’ll be seeing this being swigged from the bottle by trendy types all over the country by next Christmas. And a good thing too, as it’s full of flavour and full of life.
  5. SternBrau-Scheubel dunkel-rauch — the highlight of the first Zeitgeist beer festival, organised by Stonch and Biermania, was this smoky, amber wonder which was so good, we drank them dry.
  6. Mahrs Brau Ungespundete — our return trip to Bamberg was a bit of ticking session but this is one beer of which we wanted second-helpings: dark, cloudy, spicy and liquorice-like.
  7. Vollbier, Brauerei Meister, Unterszaunsbach — this dark, ale-like dark German beer tasted great, although that might have been something to do with the fact we’d trekked over most of Franconia to get to it, and because the lady in the pub was nice to us…
  8. U Fleku, Prague — treacly sweet and fruity sour, the black beer here is a wonder; shame the pub’s such a world-class hole.
  9. Kout na Sumave desitka, Prague — we’d never have found this one ourselves — Velky Al recently described is as the best lager in the Czech republic.  Haven’t had enough Czech beers to compare (can one ever?) but this was a beautiful easy-drinker with an impressive hop flavour.
  10. Frueh Koelsch (but not out of a bottle) — we weren’t that impressed when we first tried Frueh at the brewery tap in Cologne, but have now been back twice — it’s so subtle and so perfect that it’s become our favourite whenever we’re passing through Cologne.

Velky Al has been rounding up his beers of the year, which is where we nicked the idea what inspired us.

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.

Bamberg smells nice

We’re all used to judging the aroma of the beer we’re enjoying, but it’s rare to be able to enjoy the aroma of the town where it’s being made. Bamberg is fairly small and so dominated by brewing that the very air is full of it.

When they’re making Rauchbier, the air fills with the smell of smoke, making a summer evening feel rather autumnal.

At the other end of town within sniffing distance of the colossal Weyermann malting plant, every time the breeze blows there’s a powerful scent of toasting, sugary grains in the air.

Makes you thirsty.

The Session #15: seeing the light

Versión castellana

It’s January, not many winters ago. We’re in the Altstadthof, a brewpub in Nuremberg, and we’ve just decided that the “Rothes” beer we’ve just drunk three pints of is the best beer we’ve ever tasted. We look at each other and decide we’ve fallen in love with beer.

We decide we want to learn more about it — how can the “lager” we’ve been told is the root of all evil be so wonderfully varied? How do they make this amazing stuff? And so an obsession is born from a brief winter holiday.

We picked Nuremberg for a destination as (a) the flights were incredibly cheap (b) it seemed like an interesting place, especially if you like history and central European winters. I also booked a few days “surprise” holiday in the lovely Hotel Nepomuk in Bamberg, as a birthday treat for Bailey. I chose Bamberg because I’d heard it was pretty, and had a recommendation for the hotel in question. (It’s a classy joint — fellow beer-blogger Evan Rail celebrated his honeymoon there recently.)

So we planned a trip to the beer mecca that is Franconia, without beer being a motivation, and without really knowing much about beer at all. I’m not saying we’re experts now, but at the time we didn’t know our Dunkel from our Dunkel-Weiss, and nor did we care. In those days we drank real ale, but also “normal” lager. We weren’t sufficiently interested in beer to pick a pub on the basis of it, let alone a holiday destination.

That changed with this holiday.

We noted from the guidebook that Bamberg was famous for its breweries, and that people visited from all over the world to try the products from the nine (or is it ten? or eight?) breweries. That’ll be fun, we thought, gives us something to do. The rest is a bit of a blurry haze — I couldn’t tell you which ones we visited without seeing them again (at least two were shut) or what beers we liked. I remember Rauchbier, but I don’t think I liked it particularly at the time. I remember being surprised and bewildered by the different names and types of beer, and trying to work out what the difference was between a pils and a helles.

By the time we got back to Nuremberg, we were eager to try everything we could get our hands on. Then came the afternoon in the Alstadthof, and we were hooked.

We’re going back to Nuremberg and Bamberg in a couple of months, armed with a bit more knowledge. We’ve already been back to the Alstadthof, and the Rothes is still our favourite beer in the world.

For more on drinking in Nuremberg, see our post from June last year.

For the session announcement, see here. Let us know about your entry by leaving us a comment here or sending us an email – boakandbailey “at” gmail “dot” com

Boak

The Session #15: Cuando vimos la luz

Enero, no hace muchos años. Estamos en el Altstadthof, un brewpub en Nuremberg, y hemos decidido que su “Rothes” es la mejor cerveza que hemos probado en todo el mundo.

Decidimos que queremos aprender más sobre ella – ¿cómo pueden los “lagers” tener tanto sabor y variedad? ¿Cómo se elabora esta cosa maravillosa? Así nació una obsesión, desde unas breves vacaciones de invierno.

Escogimos Nuremberg como un destino porque (a) los vuelos fueron increíblemente baratos (b) parecía un lugar interesante, sobre todo si te gusta la historia y los inviernos de Europa central. Ademas, yo organicé unos días en Bamberg, para un regalo para Bailey. Yo había eligido Bamberg porque había escuchado que era bonito, y porque tenía una recomendación para el hotel “St Nepomuk”. (Por cierto, nuestro compañero de beer-blogging, Evan Rail, celebró su luna de miel allí hace poco.) Este artículo continua…

Continue reading “The Session #15: Cuando vimos la luz”