Last Updated : 01/02/05
A 5-day beer hunt in Bavaria
We had barely returned from our epic frenzy of lambic consumption in Belgium when it was time to pack for a 5-day marathon of beery discovery in Bavaria. I had long wanted to visit this region, not least for the densest concentration of breweries in the world; Franconia has over 200 in an area about the size of Yorkshire and most are small traditional producers making original and, in contrast to most of Germany, distinctive beers. Bamberg is the jewel in the crown of this gem-encrusted region with ten breweries active within the town’s boundaries; the prospect of so many scoops had long fascinated me and I had resolved to go in 2004 (as I did each year) but the difference was that this year I actually got off my arse and did something about it, as I decided I’d waited long enough to sample the region’s beery delights.
The plan for the trip was fairly simple, and had been decided a few months earlier after a major gen-gathering exercise. easyJet flew to München so we could start there, scoop all the beers available and get a few trams in the book too – we like trams! The next day it would be Nürnberg where, once again, trams would be scratched (and also the U-bahn; Nürnberg is the smallest city in Europe with a real underground network!) and the various brewpubs’ products sampled. After that it would be northwards again to Bamberg (unfortunately without trams) where with a bit of luck we’d be able to try all the breweries’ beers and, as a lucky bonus, we could hopefully stay at one of the brewpubs. We would then head back to Nürnberg and do a bit of sightseeing before flying back from there with Air Berlin, an airline scoop! It all sounded so easy, now all I had to do was organise it…
The trip turned out to be surprisingly easy to arrange. The easyJet flight came in at £23 each, and Air Berlin only €29. I booked the Tryp München (part of the excellent Solmelia group), the Ibis Marientor in Nürnberg and finally, after 2 attempts, I was delighted to secure a room in one of the Bamberg brewpubs, Fässla. The first two were for one night each and both were conveniently close to the respective railway stations to allow a bit of a lie-in, whereas Fässla was between the station and the town centre and, apparently, was where most visiting beer lovers stayed. After a week everything was sorted and I’d even got some train times from the website of German Railways, DB, and worked out the ticket prices too (although we worked out something even cheaper when we got there). Before we went, however, there was the small matter of a 5-day Belgian lambic drinking trip to survive…
Stansted via the world.
Saturday 20th November 2004.
With the flight to München being at the outrageously unreasonable hour of 07:55, we were compelled to leave the house at the equally ludicrous time of 02:30 in order to get to Stansted by the time check-in opened. So, after a meagre 4 hours doss, we set off without much enthusiasm for the slog along trunk roads to Stansted – maybe we should have checked the internet for road information first, but we’d done the route a dozen times and all had been fine thus far and, after all, it was 3AM!
All went fine until the M42 where a sign informed us that the road was closed at J6, so all traffic was to go via the A45 at Coventry. Cheers then! We negotiated the delights of the Coventry ring road easily, and only about 20 minutes behind schedule we were soon back on course, storming down the M6. "Bloody shambles" I complained as Warwickshire slipped by darkly; "What are they doing at this time of night? There’ll be no work going on, the road will be shut for nowt" I moaned.
Now, get this for an absolutely crap bit of traffic management. Seeing as all the traffic had been down the A45 anyway, wouldn’t it have been just a tad clever to have informed everyone that the A14 was closed around Huntingdon so those wishing to go that way could have amended their plans and took the M45 to the M1 and avoid the problem that way? I think it would have been, but the first we knew of the A14 shambles was a big sign on the A14 slip road on the M6! "A14 closed at Huntingdon!" it screamed in vivid flashing yellow. We saw it and were worried – this was serious. So serious, we might not make the flight; we needed an alternative plan, and we needed one fast.
As usual, Sue came up with the plan – M1 south then cut through to Stansted further down. Sorted! I swung the car back onto the motorway with only about 200 yards left on the slip lane and we stormed onto the M6 and headed south. All was going fine until another sign appeared – M1 closed at J10! After a minor panic we realised that this was far further than we were going and, excepting a queue 30 miles long, it wouldn’t have any impact on our sojourn with the M1 that morning although it felt a bit like the road authorities were throwing every obstacle in our way to prevent us reaching the airport.
I shan’t bore you further with the tedious details of our route, but suffice it to say we encountered no further problems and arrived in the carpark at Stansted more or less the time we’d anticipated arriving in the first place! I had paid for the car park in advance, saving a fiver, and was pleased to see that when I inserted my card the machine didn’t have a hissy fit and swallow it but, after making some rather concerning whirring noises, spat out my card and an exit ticket. Vive l’Internet, eh?
We were soon in the familiar surroundings of the Stansted departures area and checking in. We were just joining the small queue for the desk when an easyJet "usher" informed us that we could check in at an empty desk if we had hand luggage only; result! Duly checked in, and after a well-earned espresso (double, of course – it was still only 05:30!), we relaxed in the departures lounge reflecting how much worse things could have been – we might have still been stuck on the A14 somewhere near Huntingdon. With our good luck in getting to Stansted still intact, and after a perfunctory examination of the wine shop to fill in a few minutes, we took the transit to gate 6 to await developments. I was most put out to see the plane waiting on stand was one of the ones I’ve already had – G-OFRA - not required, Prague to East Midlands in 2003! Cheers then! Boarding was late and the plane was more or less full, but we were away almost to time and, with the help of a strong tailwind we were soon descending towards the alps a good half hour ahead of schedule with snow on the ground.
The One and only.
On arrival at München, and after passing through the very thorough passport control, we stormed off to find Airbräu (the only brewpub at an airport in Europe) fittingly situated at München. It proved rather more difficult to find than I was hoping, but once we found the U-bahn station that was that; it’s situated about 10 metres exit-side of the escalators. I’m not totally convinced that the place works as a pub, but it’s not too bad; the kettles gleam in the centre of the room with various other bits of the brewery scattered around behind panes of glass. There has been some effort made to create a wood-panelled effect for the pub but, despite the creators’ obviously good intentions, it still feels like drinking in a bit of the concourse with prefab partition walls around you. Mind you, the beer is what really matters so I’ll get on to that and stop gibbering about plasterboard partitions. Sorry.
Gazza in Airbräu.
The wheat beer was pure Bavaria, bananas and bubblegum, but not overly so and I didn’t mind it at all. The Helles was a lot better; a rich, malty brew with loads of flavour and graininess. We were withered to see an advert on the table for the new winter beer, Krampus – coming on in a week’s time! Cheers then! The beers duly scratched into the book, we bought a group all-line ticket for the city’s public transport and descended the escalators to the platforms for the 40-minute trip to the city.
I don’t know what it is about us, but it seems whenever we arrive in a German city the public transport system suddenly decides to implode; it may have been running without delays for the last 15 years, but the minute we roll into town that’s that – a guaranteed shambles of epic proportions. It had been the case with Köln, and now it was a similar thing in München where one of the two lines into town (S8) was replaced by a bus for part of it’s route. Happily, the other line (S1) was unaffected, and within 5 minutes a train had appeared and off we went.
Weiβbier at the brew-station.
Forty-five minutes later, we were in central München. As it was still only 13:00, the plan was to visit a few of the outlying brewpubs then head back into the centre for some scooping at the more well known establishments. From the reams of printed gen we had brought with us we decided on Isarbräu, which seemed easy to get to and did a traditional Bavaria weizen. After a bit of confusion at Donnersbergerbrücke station, where the correct platform was annoyingly tricky to locate, we were off on S7 to Groβhesselohe Isartalbf where the brewpub was located; handily, it must be said, in the old station buildings which are reached via the underpass at the inconvenient wrong end of the station.
As we entered the ivy-clad building the brewery couldn’t have been more conspicuous – it’s right in front of the door and extends down into the cellar where the fermenters are located, and the yeast can be seen bubbling, toiling and troubling away in that peculiarly mesmerising way yeast has. The waiter bounded up to us and started ranting in German and pointing at my t-shirt. As my German is pathetic, I apologised for my useless language skills and ventured a quick glance at my shirt as I’d forgotten which one I had put on that morning; I feel I can be excused here as it was 02:15 when I dressed and that was almost twelve hours previous…
The mystery was quickly resolved; "New Model Army!" beamed the waiter, switching to English; "I have seen them play and I collect their records!" How to make friends and influence people, eh? All three of us concurred that they were indeed a superb band and, with the formalities concluded, he rushed off to get our weizen that, he said, was the only beer brewed on site. We also ordered a dunkel from Brauerei Traunstein who own the pub. We bagged a table opposite the coppers and, whilst we drank, watched the S-trains pass by outside. The weizen was very true to style with an immense banana, clove and fruity bubblegum flavour which, unfortunately, neither of us really like that much! In contrast the dunkel was deep brown and caramelly and, although a nice beer, lacking a bit in character.
We finished the beers and paid the waiter, who was still on about how good New Model Army are (which we obviously agreed with!), but decided that as there were no other house-brewed beers on we’d head back into town and check into the hotel whilst it was still light and we could find it.
Hell Helles from the wood.
Back in town, the U5 deposited us at Theresienwiese and we somehow managed to do a complete circuit before we found the hotel – about 100 metres from where we’d started! The room was as well appointed, spacious and comfortable as the last Tryp hotel we’d stayed at in Bilbao; this is definitely a chain to look at first when visiting a town, they are excellent value for money. A short five-minute wander (past the highly amusing "Al Jazeera" kebab shop!) brought us to the tramstop by the hauptbahnhof, and a few minutes later we were speeding off on one of the new plastic trams on route 19 for a bit of sightseeing. Route 19 gets as close to the centre as you can on rails and winds its way through some narrow streets before crossing the Isar and rounding the impressive, if a little ostentatious, Bayern government building sat proudly on it’s rock. We then took a No.18 to Isartor, making a mental note of the Hofbräukeller on Wienerplatz for later on, before walking into the town centre.
München turned out to be a very attractive city with a vibrant buzz. This may sound like tourist brochure-speak, but that’s how we both felt; darkness was falling, the moon was out, and lots of people were milling around the Christmas markets enjoying themselves. Almost all seemed to be locals rather than tourists, and the below zero temperature helped to give a strange crispness to the air which, when mixed with the market stalls’ aromas of mulled wine, cinnamon and fresh krapfen (doughnuts), gave the city an aura of festivity which I’ve rarely encountered elsewhere; it came close to the feeling of anticipation I used to have as a child when Christmas was approaching but thought I’d never feel again!
We meandered through the thronging streets until we came to the town hall. This huge gothic pile commands the main square and reminded me of Oostende cathedral; maybe it was the colour of the stone or the style? Whatever, it’s a magnificent example of gothic architecture and, when we ventured closer, it seemed to be open for visitors! There seemed to be some sort of "Munich loves children" event under way and although without children, we decided that we’d like a look at the inside of the building and ventured through the vaulted archway into the inner courtyard. Once inside, the architecture was even more spectacular with a round tower and medieval windows. If anyone visited Manchester when cow parade was on this summer, then think the same concept – but with lions! It seems that "Leo parade" is to hit München in 2005, and there were a few prototypes scattered around…
With the sun long having since slunk over the horizon to be replaced by a shining crescent moon, the temperature was now plummeting fast so we visited a Konditorei for a fortifying kaffee und kǖchen, which included some of the best cake I’ve had for a long time, before heading for the nearest tramstop for a No.19 to Max-Weber-Platz, the nearest stop to the Unionsbräu brewpub. Standing at the tramstop brought home to me just how cold it was – I stamped around trying to keep my feet warm; it must have been at least -5° and the cold was particularly piercing even with my new winter coat on! I even experimented with wearing my woolly hat under my hood but my bald spot still felt the cold, a marked contrast to Tunisia earlier in the year when I had to wear a hat to prevent it getting sunburnt!
Eventually a tram hove into view, and it was a 19. I stepped forwards to board but sprang back when it sailed past without the driver even considering stopping. "Cheers then!" I ranted, but as I watched the tram pass I realised there was something not quite right inside. The first carriage looked almost normal, the second contained lots of people dancing, drinking and generally rioting and as for the third – a large brass band were belting out their stuff with some gusto, lederhosen-clad people were cavorting around, and the contents of a stack of beer crates at the back were being enthusiastically imbibed by all present. As the tram swung out of sight around the corner, Sue and I looked at each other and laughed; a party tram? Well, that was one way to travel! Pity it hadn’t stopped…
Shortly a real no.19 appeared, unfortunately without a stash of beer crates at the back but thankfully minus the brass band and drunken lederhosen wearers, so we took it over the river Isar to the Max-Weber-Platz stop. With a little guesswork we soon found Unionsbräu and descended the steps to the keller which was wedged full of people seriously enjoying themselves. We soon saw the root of the rioting – some people from the "party tram" were swilling copious quantities of beer whilst waitresses, staggering under the weight of the food, were delivering platefuls of delicious looking cuisine. We easily found a little table by the bar and I perceived with unmitigated glee that the helles was coming from a large wooden cask, so I ordered a helles and a dunkel whilst we soaked up the atmosphere.
Wooden Conditioners in Unionsbräu.
Our beers soon arrived, but having read some adverse comments about the carbonation of the beer, I cautiously sipped the glass. I sipped again, and then took a long pull of the beer – it was stunning! The woodiness was apparent, but the intense nutty maltiness and brambly, fruity hop flavour had me captivated; this was one of the best beers I’d had in a long time. The dunkel wasn’t as good, probably as it was filtered, but that didn’t matter with the magnificent helles available from the wood. Being hungry, as usual, we ordered some food which was also first-rate – I had a Bavarian meatloaf which Sue said tasted like Spam (but I disagree!) - and ordered another half-litre of the gorgeous helles to wash it down. Far too soon we had to grudgingly leave the pub to try out the Hofbräukeller but what a start to our Bavarian scooping trip – surely it couldn’t get much better than that?
A visit to Hitler’s local.
Outside, the icy blast seemed to have relented to a mere icy chill so we braved the cold and walked the five minutes to the Hofbräukeller, following the tramlines. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Hofbräukeller; would it be full of tourists, locals or both? I had learned from my research that the Hofbräuhaus itself was usually full of tourists, as well as having been Hitler’s local, but would the lesser-known keller be the same? We’d soon find out.
The Hofbräukeller is very sociably located next to Wienerplatz tram stop and is a huge, sprawling building with several large halls patrolled by waiters in dubious-looking "traditional" Bayern costume of lederhosen or frilly dresses (the women, that is). After walking round most of it we claimed a table being vacated by a group of locals and almost immediately a super-efficient waitress appeared with the menus, which were quickly exchanged for English versions. I enquired about the availability of the Bokbier, and she went back to the bar to check if it was on – we may as well have the rare beers seeing as we were here in November, I thought! She soon returned with good news; it was on! We ordered a bok and a dunkel and relaxed, taking in the frenzied, boisterous yet good-natured atmosphere of the hall. The clientele seemed to be mostly locals, so this had turned out to be a far more authentic move than squeezing into the Hofbräuhaus between busloads of tourists! I was pleased, but hoped the beer was good – it had a lot to live up to after the helles in Unionsbräu!
The beers soon arrived with the customary good service we’d encountered so far in München and, although it wasn’t really a patch on the last brewpub, it was drinkable enough. I wasn’t that hungry after consuming my meatloaf in Unionsbräu but the food going past looked very good and, examining the menu, we saw it was cheap so gluttony got the better of us and we ordered some more food! The Sausage and sauerkraut was tasty and filling, so much so that we were feeling very full up when we had finished it, and had to refuse another round of scoops! Ah well, maybe next time; but I think we’ll still pass on the "Bavarian sour lungs in cream sauce" thanks. No need!
Examining the beer gen, it appeared we had a problem. It was now gone 21:00 and there were still quite a few places we wanted to visit, so we did the only thing practical - we resolved to re-visit München again and do just one more selected pub that night. We chose the Paulaner Bräuhaus on account of the good write-ups it had received, so off we went via U4 to Goetheplatz. The brewpub was only a short distance from the U-bahn stop and we immediately saw the likeness to Unionsbräu; indeed, both had once been breweries which were swallowed up during the lean years of brewing in München in the early 1900’s, only to be re-opened as brewpubs by their owners (Lowenbräu and Paulaner respectively) around 1990; see Ron Pattinson’s excellent München brewery guide for more information.
Inside the pub, I could see what Ron meant when he’d written that the building was a tremendous conversion; the black and white chessboard floor shone, the vaulted ceiling stretched away into the distance and the gleaming copper brewing kit shone behind the bar – obviously no expense had been too much for the renovation. We sat by the window next to the fermenters and for the second time that day we could see yeast bubbling away in a fermenter, only this one had a cleverly positioned mirror so, even when we were sat down, the furious yeasty activity could be observed.
The service wasn’t as good as previously despite there being very few people in, and it took a good ten minutes to get served. We ordered a helles, a weizen and a glass of the seasonal special, schwarzbier. All three were, in my opinion, very average and nowhere near as good as the beers in Unionsbräu; even the eagerly anticipated schwarzbier was restrained and lacking much in the way of interest. A bit disappointed, we paid up and slunk off into the increasingly cold night back to our hotel. We had left ourselves a possible last visit, the Augustiner brewery tap, but neither of us felt up to it having been awake for well over 18 hours, so we walked back to the hotel and got some doss in the very comfy bed. That was a taste of München, I thought to myself, only 13 brewpubs to go!
"Presenting pigeons ist verboten"
Sunday 21st November 2004.
Staying so close to the station, we had the luxury of a semi-lie in which sort of made up for the ridiculously early morning the day before. We strolled down past the Al Jazeera to the hauptbahnhof and set about purchasing some food for the journey, which was a fairly lengthy one at over three hours. As for tickets, I’d heard about the "happy weekend" ticket that allowed up to 5 people unlimited travel over the whole of Germany on regional services for around €30. When we looked at the ticket machine, however, a Bayern ticket was available for only €22 and, after confirming with the very helpful ticket office that it was valid, we purchased one. What a bargain - £15 for up to five people anywhere in Bayern province, albeit on the slower regional trains, and all public transport too; there’s also a one person version for €15.
As the ticket prohibited travelling by fast ICE trains we boarded the 10:37 regional express which, although a limited stop train, would still take over three hours to reach Nürnberg. We bagged some seats in the upstairs cabin (it was a double-decker train, in case you were wondering what I was talking about) and spread our possessions and food around the seating bay to deter normals from invading our seats, although there was no real need to do this as the train was quiet for most of the journey and very few passengers bothered to climb the stairs to the top deck. On the way we passed lots of hopyards, probably the biggest concentration of traditional tall hopyards I’ve ever seen! Most were situated around Pfaffenhoffen although, being November, there was no foliage to be seen. The gaunt trellis still looked very impressive however as they marched on almost continuously for miles and miles.
The journey passed fairly quickly, with sunny weather (in complete contrast to the forecast for sleet) all the way to Nürnberg but, all the same, it was good to get off the train and stretch our legs. Walking out of the main exit from the Hauptbahnhof via an underpass brought us to the tram station and a strange sign fascinated me – it seemed to be saying that "presenting" pigeons wasn’t allowed! For those readers who weren’t rail cranks, presenting something involves indicating it with your hand whilst wearing a look of bemusement or incredulity. The pigeons wandering around the station were particularly well fed and rotund; surely there was nothing wrong with "presenting" one? After a quick check for lurking pigeon-presentation police, I gingerly presented a remarkably lardy-arsed example of pigeonkind who stared at me accusingly as if he was entreating the filth to arrive and sling me in jail. Luckily, no bird-crime constabulary appeared so I can assume I got away with it. Breakin’ the law!
We wandered, again via the underpass, to the tourist office which, although open, had no staff on duty so we grabbed a few maps and leaflets before going for a "tram-bash". Nürnberg’s network is fairly small although some of the lines go a fair way – we did line 5 to it’s terminus, Tiergarten, and were moderately surprised when the line did a huge loop through a forest at it’s last stop; there must have been a good half kilometre of fast single track running between large trees which was mildly surreal! Being Sunday, there was a reduced service operating and consequently none of the older trams were working (I’d downloaded a fleet list from the Internet – how sad is that?) so, after a quick wander around town to take some photos, we checked into the Ibis Marientor hotel which is conveniently situated about five minutes walk from the hauptbahnhof and was another of my €50 special deals!
Some kind of Paradies.
The standard Ibis room we were allocated was found to be adequate apart from being overlooked by offices, which must give the workers something to look at come a Monday morning. We dumped the bags then immediately headed back to the tram station and took another tram, but this time we headed south to check out a bar in Ron’s guide that sounded rather good: more than a dozen Franconian beers from small breweries in bottle and one from an oak cask. Named the Bier Paradies, this was one of a chain which were scattered around the southern suburbs but this was the only one we could find on our map so, with the tram taking us almost to the door, it seemed rude not to take advantage of the opportunity being offered to us. Route 9 is the tram to take in the direction of Doku-Zentrum (which is the huge complex that can be seen on the old Nazi propaganda films), and Wodenstraβe is the stop we decided on; route 9 runs along the whole length of Wodenstraβe with a stop at each end and one in the middle, but we guessed that the address pointed to the bar being at the western end and, luckily, we were right – the bar was only 50 metres down the road.
Hartmann Dunkel, anyone?
Inside, the bar was clad in pine and a small oak cask took pride of place in the middle of the bar. A chalkboard informed us that it contained Hartmann dunkel, so that was our first beer choice made! The barman poured the brew into half litre stone steins and we drank – it was a top beer with loads of mellow, toasty, toffee flavours and a bitterish, caramelly finish. We followed this delicious brew with bottles of Neder Schwarze Anna (a dark, coffee-ish and roasted dark lager) and a strange Rauchbier – Schlückla from Sauer of Gunzendorf. This unusual beer was pale and had a weird smokey hint; not the usual kippers, but surely smoked salmon? Strange but very rewarding!
With time galloping on we decided to head back to the centre and sample the fruits of the three brewpubs in the centre. Tram route 9 took us back to the Hauptbahnhof, and then around the ringroad to Krelingstraβe on the northern periphery of the city centre by one of the large towers embedded in the walls. We entered the city through a particularly eerie tunnel (in which I expected to see Scooby Doo emerge from a secret door being pursued by a zombie) and made our way to the first beery stop of the evening, the Altstadt bräuhaus, where I anticipated the beer would be very good; every person whose accounts I had read about this place seemed to offer up all sorts of praise on the building and beers so I was expecting a lot. The big question remained though – would the beers be as good as the Unionsbräu Helles the night before in München? That was a very high benchmark to aim for!
Old town, new beer.
The bar radiated a cosy glow as we entered. A free table by the window was quickly procured and I asked the waitress which beers they had on offer. As you may know, most German brewpubs offer, with remarkable lack of inventiveness, a Helles, Weiss and Dunkel – that’s it. Altstadt offered these three and, in addition, a rötbier and a bok! We decided to start with the helles and dunkel and were immediately struck with another aspect to the bar scene here as opposed to München; small glasses were available, and by small I don’t mean the half litre steins which pass as small in München, but sociably sized 25cl glasses which would make the scooping a lot easier. I was impressed already!
Altstadthof Brewery tap.
I was even more impressed when I tasted the beers. The helles was superb – the rich, fruity brambly hops and buttery malt flavour meshed perfectly to give a classic flavour; it was Sue’s beer of the week! The others were all varying degrees of dark and all had a very distinctive blackcurrant fruitiness which I liked and Sue didn’t, the schwarzbier being my favourite with it’s luscious caramel malt and red fruit tastes. After sampling a few beers we realised we’d not eaten for quite a while, so some food was swiftly ordered; my Nürnberger bratwurst with sauerkraut were delicious! After clearing up the remaining brews (except the weiss as we’d both had quite enough weissbier for a while) we decided to head off to the Lederer brewpub out in the west for the famous “Krokodil” beer, then do Barfuβer in the old Malthouse last as this move gave the shortest walk back to the hotel!
At this point, I hold my hands up and admit I broke the golden rule of scooping – always check the opening times of the pub in question! After spending a good five minutes trying to find the entrance to Lorenzkirche U-bahn station, we were on the train heading for the pub when we checked the directions and discovered I’d not checked the Sunday hours – afternoon only! Whoops! Feeling a right muppet at this basic error, we jumped off the train at the next station and caught the next one back where we had come from! Only ten minutes wasted, but an example of what happens when you don’t concentrate. Saying that, we were a bit unlucky as the other brewpubs were open Sunday night… I have since heard gen that the beer may not actually be brewed at Lederer anyway… Cheers!
The last brewpub of the night, Barfuβer, was situated close to the Hauptbahnhof and the U-bahn station we’d just got off at. It’s certainly an impressive building, being housed in the cellar of the massive malthalle; I’m guessing the building is a survivor from before the city was 90% destroyed by bombs in 1944 as I doubt anything this impressive could be built these days! Unfortunately, the beer doesn’t match up to the impressive surroundings being the usual helles and dunkel – although they’re sold as "blonde" and "schwartz" here. We tried both and found them lacking in character compared to the Altstadthof, which may be an unfair comparison, but they just didn’t elicit any excitement from us at all with the blonde being malty but without complexity or hop and the schwartz was a simple dryish caramelly brew with a slightly strange aftertaste. The brewplant is on show in the middle of the room and it’s another one with the fermenters (and therefore yeast) on show. The toilets are right at the back of the long hall, a long way to walk (or shuffle) when you really need a dump, as I can wholeheartedly testify.
Barfuβer by moonlight.
We had no desire to drink any more of these beers and, reluctantly, decided the Altstadt was too far (uphill) to walk back to so we selected our last bar of the night as Der Andechser im Deutschen Kaiser, an outlet for the alleged monastic beers of Andecher which I’d been planning to sample if possible. Handily the bar was only 25 metres from the exit of Barfuβer, so a quick scurry across the road brought us into the quiet and welcoming interior which was dimly lit and attractively decorated in what I can only assume is a fake medieval style which worked very well. Candles lit the tables and it almost seemed like a monastery such was the hushed calm inside, although this was more probably due to lack of customers than any religious reverence the clientele may have had.
The waiter soon arrived and deposited a menu on our table. We studied it carefully and deciphered that every draught beer Andecher brew was available; that’s all 7 of them! We chose the special hell and the strong Doppelbock dunkel for two contrasting examples of their beers and, once again, decided that we were hungry; I suppose it’s knowing that almost every bar you order food in will turn out something excellent from it’s kitchens – a bit different from dear old Blighty, eh?
After some deliberation over the extensive (and remarkably cheap) menu, we plumped for a dish with a name I can’t remember but bore a surprising resemblance to the meal named Gröstle in Vienna. Basically, this is a fried dish of potatoes and meat chunks including smoked ham and beef and is filling, tasty and goes perfectly with beer. Knowing the size of German portions we ordered one serving of this, which came in a huge cast-iron pan, and also an Andi Klostermaus; in the children’s section of the menu there was an entry that confused us – for a price of €0 you could have an "Andi Klostermaus" (which translates as Andi the church mouse) or, as it is better known to most people, an empty plate. The idea seemed to be, and I quote from the menu, to "steal your parent’s food!" We may have been hungry but, on seeing the size of the mammoth pan containing what must have been over a kilo of meat, we were so glad that we’d only ordered one. It was excellent too, and only around €7 for the huge panful. The Andi Klostermaus was, as expected, free and very welcome!
The beers were okay if nothing special. Maybe the helles had a honeyed hint to the finish, and the doppelbock certainly had a good smack of alcohol, but to me they were too polished and clean to be considered as classic beers. Certainly the doppelbock should, in my opinion, have a lot more body and character for such a strong brew. Had the Altstadt bräuhaus spoilt us, or were the beers just not as good as I thought they would be? Any opinions welcome on this point, especially as the bar was our last call of the night and we were stuffed with about half a cow and an acre of spuds. Our beer scooping done we wandered back to the hotel for an early-ish night, as the next day was to be our first in the town of ten breweries, Bamberg.
A day in Mecca.
Monday 22nd November 2004.
The pavements were wet but the morning had a defiantly bright aspect as we walked the short distance from the Ibis to the Hauptbahnhof. After managing for the first time to get a DB ticket machine to issue the ticket we wanted, we had a quick espresso before boarding a train for the 45-minute trip to Bamberg. We departed on time but seemed to be catching up the weather front that had deposited it’s load over Nürnberg a few hours previously, as outside our window the weather had turned dark and drizzly. "Cheers then, don’t fancy walking round in that!" I moaned, glowering at the low clouds. We had quite a bit of walking to do in order to reach the first three brewpubs, so I hoped we would break clear of the rain before we reached Bamberg. We did – just – and were greeted on arrival with a view of the Maisel brewery belching clouds of steam into the leaden sky. With it’s Flemish style stepped gables it made an arresting sight, although I was slightly alarmed at the distance it was from the station – quite a lot further than I thought it was going to be! Good job it wasn’t raining then…
We arrived in Bamberg about 20 minutes ahead of the rainclouds, so quickly made our way to the Maiselkeller with only the very general map in the Rough Guide to show us the way. Using Sue’s remarkable sense of direction we were soon approaching the Maiselkeller but, suddenly, the clouds caught up with us and the rain began so, after a few quick photos of the brewery which looked even better close-up, we sought refuge from the drizzle in the Keller. The bar was nothing like I had imagined it to be; all light pine and airy décor. However, we weren’t here for the furniture but for the beer so when the barman appeared we ordered a Kellerbier and a Bamberger Weiss. "Does he remind you of anyone?" Sue asked me, and I pondered whom the barman could possibly resemble. Blonde floppy hair, thickset face, tubby frame… of course – it was Boris Johnson!
Maisel Brewery, Bamberg.
Thankfully, this Boris wasn’t as useless as his UK clone and quickly produced the beers which we attacked enthusiastically, as it was now gone midday and we’d yet to have a drink! The Weiss was sweet and bubblegummy, but the Kellerbier was totally different; dry, bitter, hoppy and toasty with a long bitter aftertaste. It was so good we had another stein just to make sure it was as good as the first one – it was. We then tried the pils, just to clear the bar, and were surprised how good it was with it’s peachy hoppiness and full, tasty malt flavour. We left very pleased with the excellent start we’d made, only tempered a notch by the drizzly rain which was now falling with an portentous heaviness. Half way down the road, I suddenly realised I’d left our Bavarian beer guide on the table so had to run back to retrieve it; luckily, it was still sat where I’d left it with some perplexed locals looking at it…
Wunderburg – simply wunderful.
Mahrsbräu was next, and by the time we had crossed the railway the brewery chimney was visible at the end of the road we were now walking down. Within five minutes we were peeking into the brewery yard with it’s curiously crooked chimney and impressive brewhouse before taking shelter from the monotonous drizzle in the bar. Inside was a total contrast from Maisel; we could have walked into a time machine and been transported back 200 years such was the feeling of age. Dark panelled wood cloaked the walls, a huge stove covered with green tiles hulked at one side and several tables of locals chatted quietly amongst themselves clutching huge glasses of beer. I sat and stared around me for a few minutes; this was what people mean when they call somewhere "heritage"!
Mahrs' classic interior.
There was only one beer on draught, straight from the (metal) cask, so we had a large stein of hell each and relaxed into the creaky wooden chairs to consume it, soaking up the atmosphere of this very traditional bar. The beer was good if not outstanding, with a clean juicy malt and fruity hop taste with a fairly bitter finish. It was certainly very drinkable, our half litre steins only lasting ten minutes or so was a testament to this fact. I had been hoping that the breweries would have their bokbiers on sale seeing as we were visiting at the right time of year, but Mahrsbräu was our second visit and we’d drawn a blank at both! I asked the waitress if any Bok was available, and after a quick search of the crates behind the diminutive old wooden bar she affirmed that it was. How could we refuse this?
A bottle of Bok was swiftly brought to our table and duly sampled. I’d not expected that much from a bottled beer, but I suppose that’s what you get for living in Britain where most bottled beers are total rubbish! Therefore, contrary to my expectations, the Hell Bok was a stunner – rich, fruity and malty in flavour but with a delicious cinnamon hint - imagine Belgian Speculaas biscuits crushed into strong pale ale! I’m sure it’s not spiced, but to me it had a lovely bitter, spicy finish which must have come from the clever recipe; either that or the glass had previously contained glühwein.
Outside the rain had relented and a crisp freshness hung in the air as if the atmosphere had been washed clean by the drizzle. Not that it would have mattered, as our next brewpub was literally 20 metres down the road; Keesman is at number 5 Wunderburg whilst Mahrs is at number 10! We entered the bar and ensconsed ourselves at a large table then looked around. The room was more reminiscent of Maisel than Mahrs, with white walls, some wooden beams and the universal dead animal’s skulls complete with antlers. The beers were served from taps rather than from cask, but a poster near the bar revealed a surprising bonus – the bokbier was available, and vom fass (draught) too.
We ordered a bok and a Herren pils, Keesman’s most famous beer. One taste showed why; it tasted like brewing! Fresh hops, juicy malt, very fresh and with a tangy bitter finish gave a very tasty and complex beer, nothing like most pils beers I’ve ever drunk! The Bok was also golden in colour and was a thick, malty and grainy brew with a hint of porridge oats and, again, that elusive freshly brewed taste. Both beers were very good and I envied the locals in having two such good breweries on the same road, I can’t think of many places I’ve been to with two breweries almost opposite each other which both brew good beer and both have brewery taps! Even Vienna doesn’t have this…
A room with a view.
Having scooped the beers in the eastern districts of Bamberg, we walked the mile or so to Fässla in order to check in and ditch our bags. The rain held off long enough for us to reach our objective and we were soon in our room which offered a great view of the brewhouse and was good value at €52 a night with breakfast. Having abandoned our rucksacks, we headed off to find the next brewpub on our list, Klosterbräu. Walking out of Fässla we had a look into the bar and saw it was a traditional old wood-panelled bar with customers enthusiastically enjoying the products of the brewery. Resisting the urge to have a swift scoop, we headed off into town, consoling ourselves that we’d be back here later.
By now, the rain was falling in heavy bursts interspersed by showers as we trudged over the Main-Donau-kanal towards the town centre. I’d seen many pictures of Bamberg and the architecture looked amazing and, even obscured by the rain, what could be seen in the centre of town looked very impressive indeed. We located the tourist office and acquired a free map – this would be very helpful in finding places like Griefenklau. After waiting for a particularly torrential burst of rain to pass, we headed over one of the many bridges crossing the river Regnitz into Bamberg proper where the buildings grew ever more interesting and archaic and the roads narrower and more cobbley - this place was real!
Bamberg was almost untouched by WW2 and therefore has one of the few remaining original town centres in Germany, although you’d never realise it looking at places like Nürnberg where the reconstruction has been to a very high quality in most areas. Bamberg, however, needed no reconstruction and stands out as a highly attractive old town in a classic setting – and just happens to have ten breweries! It’s a great place to simply wander around, but for the beer lover who knows anything about European beer it has a special place in history; the highest concentration of breweries in the world per kilometre, and it still has a huge selection of beer available in the various pubs in town which will keep most people happy – and it’s not all rauchbier either!
Unfortunately, the road system seemed to be too real – the area where Klosterbräu is located is comprised of narrow cobbled roads which, on our freebie map at least, weren’t that easy to navigate around and we drew a blank in locating the pub. "Bloody hell, it can’t be that hard to find – it’s got a big chimney for a start!" I complained after some time of fruitless wandering. As we examined the map again, Sue had an idea and we wandered off down an even narrower cobbled road… and there it was, nestled in a tiny little square that you’d never really find by accident. I later saw that the chimney, despite being a good size, is really only visible from the other side of the river!
However, now we were there it was time for a beer! The rain had relented somewhat and we weren’t soaked, but it was good to get inside and get our coats off for a bit of a dry. Amazingly, up until about 15 years ago, Klosterbräu didn’t even have a brewery tap but you’d never guess this from sitting in their lovingly created present one; it looks and feels like it’s been there forever. Their 7% Bokbier was available; we knew that as we’d seen it advertised on a poster when we’d entered, so a half litre of that along with one of their famous schwarzbier "Schwärzla" was the obvious order for our first visit to this famous brewery, although I reckoned we’d have to come back again to clear up the other beers!
Unfortunately, the beers weren’t up to the standard we’d expected of them – the bok was bland and thin for the strength with an unsettling hint of TCP whilst the Schwärzla, whilst better, left me very confused. It was unlike almost all German beers I’ve ever tasted as it seemed to use roasted barley rather than caramalt to attain it’s colour and flavour; the flavour was packed with roast and liquorice notes with a good plummy, roasty malt finish. It wasn’t a bad beer, far from it, but it was so unlike the other dark beers around the area to make me wonder if they actually do use roast barley in it’s recipe – I’d love to know! After these two scoops we decided to re-visit the place the following day as time was getting on, and trooped off double quick for our visit to Schlenkerla’s brewery tap, the ultimate rauchbier pub, which we had to make the most of as it was closed the next day – talk about bad planning on our part!
Horseradish and Rauchbier.
I was quickly appreciating how small the central area of Bamberg was as it only took us five minutes to walk from Klosterbräu to Schlenkerla. We found it easily; we couldn’t really miss the huge black and white structure sitting prettily in a long line of similar facades. I’d seen pictures of the inside of Schlenkerla and it had looked even more traditional than Mahrs, but I was still unprepared for the interior; dark brown wood clad the walls, the tables were long and gnarled through years of use and it was full of happy customers drinking litre glasses of dark brown beer with great relish and enthusiasm which was being dispensed at the small bar from wooden casks which looked as old as the building itself. As I looked around, I could see why people loved Bamberg – this wasn’t some themed bar created for tourists, this was a real locals pub that must have hardly changed in years and I felt privileged to be able to experience this world famous beer pub. But first, we needed somewhere to sit.
The land of horseradish.
We peered through the smoky gloom in search of some vacant chairs. Despite the best efforts of the 5-watt light bulbs that passed for illumination, we saw some and hurriedly made our way across to the table. I asked the occupants of the table if the seats were free, they replied that they were and that was it – we were sat down in Schlenkerla, one of the "must visits" on my world beer map! Having secured our places, we waited for the waitresses to come round and I surveyed the bar. The subdued lighting and almost claustrophobic dark wood panelling gave the room an amazing atmosphere which was enhanced by the clientele; they seemed to be all locals and were putting away the beer with some zeal and having a great time too. The place was packed and I was very impressed with the vitality and un-threatening boisterousness of the customers, especially as this was a Monday night!
Seeing that we had been there five minutes and still had no beer, the nearest local on our table decided to remedy the situation. He assailed one of the waitresses and pointed her in our direction, perhaps anxious not to leave us without the fabled brew for too long lest he and his friends consume it all. Thanking him profusely, I asked the waitress which beers were available. She had some good news – the normal Märzen, and the rare urbock too, both from wooden casks sat on the counter. A few minutes later two half litres of garnet red beer were sat in front of us and the occupants of our table were watching us, waiting for our reaction to the beer; perhaps they expected what I imagine the reaction of any novice to rauchbier would be, something along the lines of "What the fuck is that?!?"
I decided not to keep them in suspense any longer and took a swig from the urbock. It seemed as if my tastebuds were being assaulted with a large kipper covered in treacle; the beer was intense and smoky yet with balancing treacle, charcoal and tar and a rich woody, smokey finish. I took another drink before placing the glass in front of me with a huge smile; I had found nirvana, and it was good! The table occupants seemed pleased that I liked the beer and, after a chorous of "Proust!" they carried on with their demolition of the Märzen supplies. Sue hadn’t been sure if she’d like rauchbier but we both found the beers to be excellent, although I think I have a higher tolerance to rauch than Sue does!
We sat and drank the beers, which were quite similar with the urbock being heavier and not quite as dry, although I think both would push most ordinary drinker’s definition of beer to the limits. I thought of the times I’d drank Schlenkerla Märzen in bottle and never thought I’d get to the place where it was brewed; now I was there and it tasted even better from the wooden cask! As usual, we were now getting hungry and the food looked pretty good too (as it does almost everywhere in Germany) so we studied the menu. My neighbour on the table took it upon himself to translate the dishes into English for me and he took great delight in explaining that the food was all local to Bamberg. He was particularly keen for me to try the weiβwurst which, he said, was “From little deer”, complete with a fairly passable imitation of a stag using his hands as improvised antlers complete with sound effects!
My newfound translator friend was stuck on a particular item on the menu and asked me for help. "Dis word – I don’t know what he means" he explained, indicating meerrettich. I quickly fished out my German phrase book from the rucksack and located the offending word, which turned out to mean horseradish sauce. I turned to my neighbour and informed him of the meaning, whereupon his face lit up with a massive smile. I was a little concerned – what had I said that was so funny? What could possibly be humorous about horseradish? It seemed that something was, and the rest of the table was in on the joke. My friend leaned over to me, still grinning ear to ear, and said, pronouncing every syllable, "Horse…. RADISH!", whereupon the whole table erupted into a roar of laughter. It then seemed like a Mexican wave went round the tables, each one shouting "Horse… RADISH!" and bellowing with hilarity, until it came round to Sue who was sitting next to me. A local who had been talking to her leaned over with a red, laughing, beery face and whispered "Horse….RADISH!" whereupon he collapsed with mirth at this comic nugget. We still don’t know what was so funny about horseradish, but I think we made the locals’ night with our translation of meerrettich!
That was that decided then, weiβwurst and horsersadish for me! We ordered our food, and I was very careful not to mention the horseradish just in case the waitress should be stricken with the same rampant joviality as the rest of the bar. The food soon arrived and we tucked in, the locals on our table nudging each other and casting glances at my plate. "Horse…. RADISH!" they chortled to each other, unable to control their appreciation of my comic translation genius. Between bouts of laughter, my horseradish-loving friend noticed that our glasses were almost empty and ascertained for us that the rauchweizen was available in bottle. We ordered one as this sounded very strange indeed and, anyway, I thought it might take his mind off the horseradish for a while. My weiβwurst was very good and went down a treat accompanied by spicy sauerkraut and a dollop of hilarious condiment, which I didn’t find particularly amusing, but gave a lovely flavour to the sausages.
More Rauchbier – and neighbour.
As much as I’d like to have stayed in this superb bar, we had other beer to drink although, thinking about it now, maybe we should have stayed for one more urbock seeing as it was my beer of the week! We made our way back through the centre of town until we had crossed the canal and reached Zum Spezial. This was another very traditional bar with long tables, dead deer’s heads on the walls and wooden casks sat on the bar and it was also very full of locals swigging large glasses of dark brown beer. I wondered if the bars in town were this busy every night; if they were, it explained the Franconian’s per capita consumption figures of 200+ litres a year! We eventually found some spaces in the small front snug and ordered some beer; the bock, obviously, and the ungespundet bier (which literally means "unbunged" – a reference to the fermenting vessel allowing CO2 out during fermentation). Both were deep reddy-brown in colour and both were smoked, although not as aggressively so as the Schlenkerla beers we’d just consumed and both were very good beers although, for me, the bock just shaded it being slightly more full-bodied and tangy in flavour from the beechwood-kilned malt. Sitting in this bar, drinking this excellent beer, I could see what people meant when they said Bamberg was a beer drinker’s paradise although, without the bokbiers, I’m not sure if I’d be as impressed with the range of beers available, good as they all (mostly) are.
We finished off the excellent brews and crossed the road to Fässla. Here we settled for their two draught beers, Lagerbier and Gold-Pils, which were a bit of a let-down to me; I had expected Fässla’s brews to be intense and tasty, but they tasted a bit thin and mundane to me. Whether it was the amount of beer consumed during the day which had dulled my tastebuds, the smoky beers of Spezial which had spoilt them for flavour, or the simple fact that the beers aren’t that exciting is a question I can’t answer; maybe a return trip is necessary to re-evaluate the beers? These proved to be the last scoops of the night, although we had done pretty well on our first day to score 7 of the 10 brewpubs and we still had a day in hand to do the last two, plus (maybe) Kaiserdom out in the west.
Another bite of the cherry.
Tuesday 23rd November 2005.
The day dawned wet and drizzly, just what we wanted when we had planned to be walking around town taking in the sights, not to mention the long climb up to the Griefenklau brewpub high above the town to the south. Breakfast turned out to be better than expected with a good selection of breads, eggs and condiments served in the rustic little breakfast room, just past the brewhouse, which was emitting gorgeous malty aromas and billowing clouds of steam from it’s half-open doors. Despite having consumed a lot of beer the day before the smell was stunning and put me in the mood for some more beer straight away – there’s something unfathomable about the smells of the brewing process which has a magnetic effect on people; I could have stood outside the door for hours breathing the gorgeous sweet, grainy clouds deep into my lungs but we had some exploring to do so I settled for 5 minutes before we returned to our room, packed our day bag, and set off to explore Bamberg.
As we passed through the bar I felt that something wasn’t as would be expected for 9:30 in the morning. It took me a few seconds to work out what it was but the penny soon dropped – the bar was already well occupied with locals availing themselves of the liquid facilities on offer. It seemed to normal to them that it made me think just how stupid our licensing laws are; I’m sure being able to have a drink at that time in the morning hasn’t done them any harm. After this clash of drinking cultures we had a leisurely wander around Bamberg for a few hours, dodging the rain that came and went in short but violent bursts, before visiting the new Ambräusanium brewpub for a coffee. I originally felt like scooping one of the beers, but we decided to make Griefenklau our first of the day and settled for the caffeine shot instead – after all, we’d be back past here later and it wasn’t going anywhere.
After we’d seen as much of the town as we felt was necessary it was time for a beer, but to get to the brewpub we needed to climb the hill heading south out of Bamberg. I’d read that Griefenklau’s beers weren’t the most respected of Bamberg’s products and no one seemed to have a really good word to say about them, but their Bokbier was one of the rarest of the town’s brewers and, anyway, it was one of the three we still had to visit so it seemed lazy not to visit especially as we had all day to do it. So, with the rainclouds retreating over the hills to the north, we headed off up the steep hill towards Griefenklau. After a good fifteen minutes of battling against the gradient we arrived at the square where the brewpub was located – just in time, as the rain was beginning to fall again, so we swiftly took the required photo and dived inside.
The front door opened into a passageway similar to most of the other brewpubs we’d visited and very reminiscent of country pubs around Manchester with a little serving hatch opening into the corridor. On the wall was a poster advertising the Bock; well, it had been worth the walk after all! We entered the bar and found it was of the same basic layout as most of the others; a small bar area in the corner, a large tile covered stove against one wall, and long pine tables arranged in rows. Being afternoon, the bar was reasonably quiet so we had no problem in acquiring the first table inside the door and I quickly ordered a Bok and the standard Lagerbier – it had been a long walk up the hill and we were thirsty!
The beers were served by pressure from taps mounted on the wall and quickly arrived at our table. I approached the lagerbier with some trepidation, but it turned out to be a perfectly acceptable beer with a soft, malty character and a vanilla hint in the long, grainy finish; nothing wrong with that in my opinion! The Bok was very similar, but stronger, which gave it a pleasant sweetness in the flavour and a hefty malt kick in the aftertaste. Overall, I was impressed with the beers and don’t think they deserve their reputation as the worst beers in Bamberg; for me this goes to Klosterbräu on the showing of their draught beers although I hear they are better in the bottle. We decided, as usual, that we were hungry so ordered two huge plates of food, the quality or which was up to the usual standard and, after gorging ourselves on Griefenklau’s excellent victuals, we headed off back to the town – downhill this time!
New isn’t necessarily better.
We decided to give Klosterbräu another chance, so we took a winding route down the hill into town which emerged just down the road from the brewpub. Inside it was even quieter than Griefenklau had been save for a few old regulars sipping their litres of beer in silence. The barman seemed amazed that anyone had entered the bar at such a time and disturb his relaxation, but we managed to order a Bräunbier and a coffee (despite his protestations that the machine was switched off) and settled down in the monastic silence to sample them. The Bräunbier was better than the Bock we’d had the previous day but, despite that, I still felt it’s flavour was too subtle for the over zealous use of top pressure utilised in the serving of the beer and the hint of TCP I’d detected in the Bock was again evident in the taste. Having decided to forego the other beers on offer on the grounds of not liking TCP very much, we wandered off to the St Georgen bar Zum Kachelofen, opposite the Ambräusanium, to see if their kellerbier was as good on draught as it was in the bottle.
The bar was welcoming and traditional; maybe too much so as the barstaff were wearing lederhosen, but it didn’t seem to be aimed at tourists so we let them off. I received a ceramic half-litre mug of kellerbier whilst Sue had a pils and we found both beers to be very hoppy and characterful, and I think the kellerbier would have been my beer of the week had it not been for the rauchbiers on offer in Schlenkerla and Spezial. As we drank the beers, Christmas lights were being put up outside and the festive atmosphere made the bar seem even more cosy and relaxing, so we took our time over the beers and, when we finally emerged, it had gone dark outside and twinkling lights shimmered from the buildings all around. Looking at the time, we decided to miss Kaiserdom out as it was too far away leaving one more brewpub to scoop – the Ambräusanium over the road from Zum Kachelofen!
Getting to our next scoop was a simple matter of crossing the road and within twenty seconds we were inside the Ambräusanium for the second time that day. It was still very quiet and calm – perhaps too quiet for a new brewpub? In accordance with our practice of ignoring wheat beers we ordered the Dunkel and Helles that, unusually, were available in small 33cl glasses. The reports I’d heard about the bar had been on the whole positive, but I was reaching a different conclusion; they needn’t have bothered adding to the amazing brewpub-count of Bamberg if they couldn’t produce something worth drinking. This may sound a bit harsh, but the beers were both poor – the dunkel had an overbearing blunt sweetness which overwhelmed even the caramel, and the helles was almost tasteless apart from a strange sourness which I can’t believe was intentional but at least gave it a hint of character.
The bar was laid out quite nicely, with the shiny copper brewing kit prominent, but it seemed a bit soulless after having seen Schlenkerla and Mahrs; maybe it will age well? Sadly, to my taste the beers were a big letdown and if you closed your eyes and sipped them you could be anywhere in the world – identikit beers for undiscerning drinkers in my opinion, but I’ll give them another chance when they’ve been brewing a few years. To make matters worse, their bokbier was coming on the next weekend and my attempt at blagging some fell flat as it "wasn’t ready yet". Ah well, that was Bamberg done, it was time to go and drink some more Rauchbier! By a cruel twist of fate, Schlenkerla is closed on Tuesday so we would have to miss out on their sublime urbock and make do with the delights of Spezial instead; what a hardship!
A pint of smoky bacon, please.
So, for the final time, we wandered through the streets of Bamberg, crossed the river and canal, and walked into Spezial. It wasn’t as full as the previous evening as we were a good three hours earlier, but there was still a good crowd of locals sat round the tables tucking into the brewery’s products with fervour. We sat at the street end of one of the long tables and I was pleased to see there were a further two beers I required on sale – the lagerbier and the märzen. We quickly received a half litre of each and both were a glorious copper colour, the lager slightly paler, and both reeked of woodsmoke; that was a good sign! I slightly preferred the märzen although both were excellent; the combination of toffee malt, fruity hop and dry, bitter finish overlaid with a rich smokiness (which bordered on smokey bacon crisps in the lagerbier!) combined to give a superb complex flavour which dared you to put the glass down for long. Given the staid outlook of most German brewers, it’s very heartening to see this sort of beer still being made and enjoyed by the people who matter – the locals. Long may it continue.
Just for a change we were feeling hungry, and decided that it was time for some food – it had been a good six hours since we’d eaten at Griefenklau! I studied the menu and, although several items tempted me, I just had to order "Limburger mit musik". This bizarre sounding dish is comprised of slices of Limburger (Belgian semi-soft cheese) swimming in a thin vinaigrette covered in sliced raw onions. The "musik" part of the name comes from the digestive effects of the onions…! The food ordered we sat back and relaxed, enjoying the delicious smoky beer and the hospitable atmosphere of the bar; this is one pub I wish I could have at the end of the road in Worcester… if only! The food was excellent and complimented the beer perfectly; and, yes, musik was generated later on!
Tempting though it was to have another beer, we were suffering after four days of continuous consumption and decided to have a final beer in Fässla before having a relatively early night; 21:00 would be a world record for us on a beer tour! Reluctantly we drained our glasses of the delicious rauchbier and crossed the road for our last beer in Bamberg. Fittingly, we ordered a bottle of Bamberg’s strongest beer, Bambergator Bock at 8%, along with a bottle of Zwergla and sat in the wood panelled bar to drink them. I was a bit gutted that we had drunk too much beer in the last few days to be able to appreciate Spezial more, but I’d been half expecting our second day to be a bit slow and we took our time with the beers which were pleasant without being exceptional; the Bambergator in particular wasn’t as good as I thought it was going to be although it was a perfectly good beer in it’s own right. At just after 21:00, we drained our glasses and retired to our room exhausted from a serious session of scooping some excellent beers in Bavaria and Franconia, happy in the knowledge the next day included no beer drinking, just tourism!
Scooping the Bok in Fassla.
A bierless day!
Wednesday 24th November 2004.
We had a bit of a lie-in as there was no real rush to get back to Nürnberg, and when I finally opened the curtains I had a bit of a shock – the town was covered in a veil of thick fog! It was so thick we could barely see the brewhouse 20 metres away although it could still be smelt, which was the important bit. After breakfast, we paid up (discovering it was cash only and, luckily, we had enough to cover the €104 bill!) and headed off to the station via a beer shop which was alleged to open at 09:00 but didn’t. The selection in the windows looked good, including the one Bamberg brewery we’d not had (Kaiserdom), but we decided to get the first train rather than wait for the shop to open – it didn’t look like it had any intention of doing so in the immediate future. After a brisk ten-minute walk to the Hauptbahnhof we bought a bottle of Schlenkerla from the station shop as a souvenir and boarded the train and, just to foil my photo opportunity, the fog was so dense we couldn’t even see the Maisel brewery when we passed it!
I shan’t bore you with the minutiae of what we did, but suffice it to say it didn’t include beer at all; we rode around on the trams, walked through the city centre and generally had a good look around at this beautiful city; it’s hard to believe it was 90% flattened in the war such is the quality and aesthetics of most of the rebuilding. It may seem strange that we didn’t go to Altstadt for some of their excellent beer but we’d had four days continuously on the ale and decided against it and, after all, I had to drive 150 miles back from Stansted when we got back at 20:00!
We visited the Nazi sites to the south of the city and I’d recommend anyone with even a slight interest in recent history visit here. If you’ve seen the grainy films of the rallies here in the 1930’s then to see the actual platform (minus balustrades, apparently they were removed as they were dangerous) where Hitler ranted and raved is an eerie experience; more eerie still is that you can actually stand on the platform and gaze out over the zeppelinfeld and onto the huge stone terraces where the deluded thousands cheered and saluted. If you can ignore the insensitive lorrypark inconveniently placed under the platform this is a place with an atmosphere that somehow doesn’t seem quite real – you have to keep reminding yourself that it is very real. If you take the No.9 tram to Docu-Zentrum, you can walk past the massive exhibition hall modelled on the acropolis and follow a path along the lake, through the woods, to the zeppelinfeld where the sights and sounds of red squirrels and woodpeckers clash with the brutal concrete terraces that ring the field. This is one tourist experience they don’t tell you about on TV, but it’s probably more educational and memorable than anything else in town.
The Zeppelinfeld with Hitler's balcony on the right.
We took the U-Bahn to the airport at around 16:30 and misjudged how far it was – it only took 15 minutes to get there leaving us with a huge fester, but this turned out to be OK as we found the viewing platform and sat there for a while eating a selection of marzipan we’d bought from the shop and admiring a cow from cow parade which was inexplicably stationed there. Thankfully the flight was on schedule, although the transfer buses we were on sat next to it for a good ten minutes before we were allowed to board, and we arrived back in the UK on time.
Looks like Planey would be safe at this airport...
All in all a great trip with some excellent beers scooped. I know this may sound a bit strange to those who never drink anything except UK beer but the lagers of Bavaria and Franconia are, on the whole, excellent and taste nothing like the fizzy blonde crud we are offered as "lager" at home. The unfiltered Helles beers of München were particularly impressive, as were the rauchbiers of Bamberg, and we didn’t really have a bad beer all week except the TCP-ish Klosterbräu beers. It took me ten years to get around to visiting the region, but now with the cheap Air Berlin flights to Nürnberg (you can get a return from £38) there’s no real excuse for not getting over to Franconia and seeing just how good lager can be. I’ll certainly never look at lager the same way again after drinking Spezial and Schlenkerla – and I challenge anyone else to!
Gazza’s beers of the week.
Bar and Brewpub gen.
Airbräu, München Flughafen. ( 10:00–01:00 ). The only brewpub in an airport in Europe. Situated by the escalators to the S-bahn platforms; be scooping your first beer within ten minutes of landing, passport control permitting (OK, half an hour then). Average beers (occasional seasonals too) but worth visiting to be able to tell your beer-aware friends you’ve been and for the novelty value.
Isarbräu, Groβhesselohe Isartalbf S-bahn station, München. ( 1000-2400 ). Situated 20 minutes out of München on the S7 rail line, this brewpub is owned by Traunstein who supply all the beers except the weiβ, which is brewed on the premises. Personally I’d not bother but it’s OK if you have an hour spare.
Unions Bräu, Einsteinstraβe 46, München. ( Mon-Sat 1600–0100, Sun 1000-0100 ). Was set up by Lowenbräu in 1991, and now must be Interbrew’s only brewpub since they now own Lowenbräu. The helles is served from the wood and is excellent, the dunkel on tap is average. Close to the Hofbräukeller via Max-Weber-Platz tramstop.
Hofbräu Keller, Innere Wienerstraβe 19, München. ( 1000-2300 ). If you want to drink Hofbräu beers and don’t want to be crammed in with busloads of tourists and ripped off then come here. It’s a convenient ten-minute stroll from Unionsbräu and right next to Wienerplatz tramstop. Beers and food are adequate, but the building itself is worth a visit for it’s classic bierhalle ambience and décor.
Paulaner Bräuhaus, Kapuzinerplatz 5, München. ( Mon-Fri 1000–2300, Sat-Sun 0900-2300 ). Operated by Paulaner, this gloriously restored building is the showcase for a micro-brewery installed in 1989. The house-brewed weiβ is the benchmark for Bavarian weiβbier although I didn’t like it much! Glorious building, shame about the beers in my opinion – they just weren’t characterful enough for me.
Landbier Paradies "Das Wirtshaus", Wodenstraβe 15, Nürnberg. ( Mon-Thu 1730–0100, Fri 1400–0100, Sat 1200–0100 and Sundays/holidays 1000-0100 ). Alight from the No.9 tram at the Wodenstraβe stop (coming from the Hauptbahnhof) and follow the lines for about 100 metres; the bar is on the left. Excellent little wood panelled bar with 15 rare Franconian beers in bottle and one on wooden cask. There are several more and an off-license scattered throughout the city, well recommended.
Bräustüberl Altstadthof Bräuhaus, Bergstraβe 19, Nürnberg. ( 1100–0100 every day ). The brewery tap of the Altstadt brewery which is located in the sandstone caves beneath (apparently). Cosy and welcoming little place with great beer and food.
Barfuβer, Malthalle, Hallplatz 2, Nürnberg. ( 1100–0100 ). Very impressive building which contains this brewpub in the cellars. The building is the best bit, however; the beer is particularly bland and boring.
Der Andechser im Deutschen Kaiser, Königstraβe 55, Nürnberg. ( 1100–0000). Tied house of the Andechs brewery which has all of their beers on draught – all 7 of them! The food is excellent and particularly good value and it’s only a short walk from the station. I didn’t think that much of the two beers we had, but it’s a definite recommendation if you’re in town.
Maisel Keller, Moosstraβe 32, Bamberg. ( 1000-2400 ). Maisel brewery can be seen as you arrive into Bamberg from the South on the right hand side. It has a strangely Flemish look to it’s stepped gables and it was emitting clouds of steam (which smelt lovely) when we visited. Note that’s it is a good twenty minute walk from the station, but it’s only five minutes once there to Mahrs and Keesmann. The brewery tap (the Keller) is modern and unremarkable but the beer is pretty damn good, especially the kellerbier.
Mahrs Bräu, Wunderburg 10, Bamberg. ( 0900-2300). A fair way from the town centre but only five minutes from Maisel, this superb old brewery and it’s associated tap are what everyone imagines Bamberg pubs to be like; old, dark and wood-panelled. The beer comes from casks (sometimes wooden) sat on the small bar counter and is pretty good. There are also bottled beers, including the superb bock in season.
Keesmann, Wunderburg 5, Bamberg. ( Mon-Fri 0900-2300, Sat 0900-1500, Sun closed ). As Ron Pattinson says, Wunderburg is aptly named – it has two cracking brewpubs twenty metres apart and another five minutes walk away! Keesmann is like chalk to Mahrs’ cheese being bright, modern and serving beers from tap. It is friendly and comfortable, however, and the beer is very drinkable; imagine the taste of a working brewery and you’ll have an idea what they taste like. The food looked good too.
Klosterbräu, Obere Mühlbrücke 1-3, Bamberg. ( Tue-Thu 1030-2300 ). This is the oldest brewery in Bamberg and, amazingly, it had no brewery tap until twenty years ago. You’d never guess it whilst sat in the gloomy tap room which looks like most of the others do with all the accompaniments; skulls with attached antlers, black beams, pine tables and no sound except conversation. The beer, unfortunately, was our least favourite of the trip having a TCP hint (although the Schwärzla was okay) although I’m ready to accept we may have been unlucky and would try them again. It’s difficult to find the place too!
Heller-Bräu Trum (Schlenkerla), Dominikanerstraβe 6, Bamberg. (Wed-Mon 0930-2400, closed Tue ). My favourite bar in Bamberg and one of my favourites of all-time. A classic timber-framed building which contains this memorable dark brown bar lit by stained glass windows and 10-watt light bulbs. The beer is from wooden casks sat on the small bar area and is one of the wonders of the beer world although firmly in the "love it or hate it" camp. The locals are very friendly and helpful and it’s an experience not to be missed; the ordinary (if a beer of this stature can be called "ordinary") beer is the Märzen, one of the classic beers of the world, and the Urbock is similar, just more of it in every department. Magnificent.
Spezial, Obere Köningstraβe 10, Bamberg. ( ). Bamberg’s "other" rauchbier brewery. This isn’t meant as a slight, it’s just that most people have heard of Schlenkerla and not many know of Spezial – although it’s beers are very deserving of knowing. Directly opposite Fässla and next door to a pretty good bakery, this old half-timbered hotel is one of the classic breweries of Germany. Inside, the bar is relatively small and traditional with the usual pine tables, beams and animal’s heads and has a small bar area where the beers are served from casks (fakes?). The beer is the main attraction, however, and it’s different enough from Schlenkerla to be judged in it’s own right and all four we had were magnificent with a distinct toffee-ish, malty character and restrained yet pungent smokiness. Absolute heaven in a glass.
Fässla, Obere Köningstraβe 19-21, Bamberg. ( 0830-2300 ). Opposite Spezial and offering a totally different style of brewing, Fässla produces "normal" beers which are okay if a little bland after the delights over the road. The casks on the bar are fakes, but the beers (lagerbier and gold pils) aren’t gassy and are perfectly drinkable. The bottled brews give greater prominence to flavour and Zwergla and Bambergator are fine drinks in their own right. There is also a 20 room hotel, bookable online, which at around €52 a night for a double with breakfast is eminently reasonable, even more so with the early morning brewing steam drifting through the windows. A great base for exploring the town.
Griefenklau, Laurenziplatz 20. Bamberg. ( Mon-Sat 0900-2300, Sun 0930-1400 ). This brewpub is a bracing walk away high up above the town and I think brews perfectly decent beer although many rate it as the worst Bamberg brewery. True, it doesn’t have the power of Schlenkerla or the finesse of Maisel kellerbier but taken on it’s own merit it’s fine, the Bokbier even more so. The food is very good too.
Ambräusianum, Dominikanerstraβe 10, Bamberg. ( Mon-Fri 1000-2400, Sat-Sun 0900-2400 ). Bamberg’s newest brewpub (and a real one with the kit inside the building rather than the others where the kit is in a separate building) opened in summer 2004 amidst a blaze of publicity. It’s located in an old building opposite Zum Kachelofen and a few doors down from Schlenkerla but the quality of the beers brewed there don’t seem to have rubbed off yet – the two we had were bland and unexciting. I’m prepared to give them another chance in a year or two when they’ve sorted the recipes out.
Zum Kachelofen, Obere Sandstraβe 1, Bamberg. ( 1000-0100 ). Old bar opposite the Ambräusianum which sells the beers from one of the most famous Franconia brewers, St Georgen of Buttenheim. The bar staff wear lederhosen and the furnishings are a bit over the top, but it’s worthy of at least one stein of kellerbier or pilsner to see how good Franconia beer is. The food wasn’t tried but looked very impressive.
The other brewery in Bamberg is Kaiserdom, at Gaustadter Hauptstraβe 26 way out in the west. The beer shop with 100 beers is Vroni’s Getränkelädla at Luitpoldstraβe 29 on the way from the station to town.
Bamberg also has a brewery museum which opens from April to October.
Getting there, getting around etc.
Using the budget airlines it’s dead easy to get to Bavaria these days; gone are the £200 return flights with Lufthansa and BA – well, they’re still there but would you pay that? No, I didn’t think so. If you book early enough (say two months in advance) you can get a return to München for around £40 and a similar price, maybe a few quid less, to Nürnberg. easyJet fly from Stansted to München daily, arriving around 11:00, and from March Air Berlin fly from Manchester. Air Berlin operate the "city shuttle" between Stansted and Nürnberg which goes from €29 each way. It’s possible to get to the area by train using the Eurostar to Brussels or Paris then an ICE or Thalys to Bavaria but it’s a lot more expensive and not really worth the bother unless you really dislike flying. See Raileurope for information. For info about getting to and from the airports, see this excellent "to and from" website dedicated to this very purpose, although both are rail connected and easy to get to and from – unlike some we’ve been to!
Public transport in the region is excellent, as it is in most of mainland Europe. Both München and Nürnberg both have tram (Straβenbahn) and underground (U-Bahn) systems and Nürnberg is the smallest city with a true underground network. Both are easy to navigate and most of the brewpubs and bars are within a short walk of a tram/tube/bus stop. Nürnberg has quite a lot of info on the Internet, including some enthusiast pages (with fleet lists!) and also a tram museum which has limited opening hours. München’s transport system is fairly extensive and has a zonal system – you must purchase the correct zone ticket before travelling. From the airport it’s easy as it is in the furthest zone out so you can get a day rover covering all zones, or a two-person rover that works out a lot cheaper. Bamberg only has buses, which we didn’t use, but seem to be very comprehensive and serve most of the surrounding villages. Travelling between the places is also easy – you can get a "Bayern" day ticket from the machines or ticket offices at stations which cost €15 for one person or €22 for up to five! This entitles you to travel on all local trains (R and RE services) and public transport in the cities; it’s a cheap way to get from München to Nürnberg, for example. See the German railway’s website for journey planning and other info.
For general tourist information on the cities, visit their websites; München and Nürnberg. Bamberg is a UNESCO world heritage site and with good reason; it was spared the destruction of the war by virtue of not having anything worth bombing, so has what must be Germany’s most perfect city centre in it’s original form. It certainly rewards a good walk around, visit the tourist info centre for a free map which also comes in very useful for finding the brewpubs! For more info on the beer scene in Bamberg, there are lots of sites on the net, including the Bamberg beer guide, but (as usual) Ron Pattinson’s online guides were accurate, entertainingly written and full of all the gen a beer enthusiast wants to know. See his pages here, and the specific München, Nürnberg and Bamberg ones too, as well as the brewery ones for München and Bamberg. You don’t really need any more info than this – well, maybe a map helps.
|Gazza in Airbräu München airport||Isarbräu München||Leo parade Neues Rathaus München||Casks in Unionsbräu München||Presenting Pigeons Nürnberg|
|Cask of Hartmann dunkel in Bierparadies Wodanstr Nürnberg||Altstadthof brewpub on Bergstr Nürnber||Kaiserburg at night Nürnberg||Barfüßer Hallplatz Nürnberg||Maisel brewery Bamberg|
|Mahrsbräu Bamberg||Keesman Bamberg||Fässla Bamberg||Rathaus Bamberg||Schlenkerla Bamberg|
|Spezial Bamberg||Browny statue Bamberg||Griefenklau Bamberg||Klosterbrau Bamberg||Ambräusianum Bamberg|
|Gazza in Fässla with Bok Bamberg||The Zeppelinfeld Nürnberg||Bellowing allowed at Nürnberg airport|
© Gazza Prescott 01/02/2005 Version 1.1