Beer, Cider, & Sake

A trip through lager land, Bavaria

ThomasvanDale | Jun 8, 201404:46 AM     12

As requested, here's a report on a 7 day trip through the beeriest area on earth: die Frankische Schweiz (Franconian Switzerland).

A bit of history to begin: a few years after the Reinheitsgebot, beer brewing between late April and late September in Bavaria was forbidden because of the danger of fire in hot summers. Brewers would brew beer in the cooler months, then store the barrels in caves or stone cellars to keep it cool during warmer months.

Since refrigeration had not yet been invented, if a pond or lake was nearby, they would cut blocks of ice and put them in the cellar. They also planted trees with big leaves near the entrance to the cave or cellar to keep out sunlight.

By the 19th century, someone came up with the idea of setting up tables and chairs near these places and serve the beer directly from the barrels. These became known as a bierkeller (beer cellar).

Today, many of these cellars still exist. Just outside the town of Forchheim, for example, there is a large hill with many of these cellars. Every year in late July, they hold a festival there called Annafest (this is NOT a beer festival, but, what in German is called a Volksfest or peoples festival). One or two of the brewers even lets people into their cellar.

The bierkeller is very popular in Bavaria and many brewers and pubs set up a similar arrangement with old, leafy trees and tables and benches at the brewery tap or pub. The old leafy trees are what make a bierkeller different from just a terrace where people can drink beer.

My trip began at a monastery called Kloster Kreuzberg. Beer is brewed at the monastery and an entire building has been constructed for visitors including not only a pub, but also a hotel. For €25 you get a single room, a very nice breakfast and one hour extra to drink beer in the evening (non-hotel guests are only served until 8 at night).

I've been traveling to this area for many years and always travel by public transport. The Germans have an excellent system of trains, buses and citizen "taxis" that can bring you almost anywhere and at a very reasonable cost. Also drink driving in Europe is prohibited and strongly controlled by the police.

In order to get to the monastery, you need to take the KreuzbergBus. If you go during the week, you need to reserve a seat (probably only in German), however, if you go on a weekend, no reservation is required.

My next stop was in a small village a short distance to the east of Bamberg, a very nice city to visit for beer. From there we got bikes and travelled to nearby villages to drink local beer. One day, our "hostess" told us the local volunteer fire department was having a small festival with food and drink. We drank a beer called Huppendorfer, which was very good and served by gravity directly from a barrel.

It has become more and more popular over the years to serve beer without any gas, but only by gravity from the barrel. There is even a name for it: Bayrischer Anstich (Bavarian tap). Most beers are between 4-5 percent alcohol and, in the countryside cost from about €2 to €2.80 per half liter. Generally a half liter is the smallest serving size, although a few exceptions do exist. Some places offer liters, but it is not universal. The beers are rather subtle in flavours. That is, some are more malty, some are more hoppy, but generally, the taste is quite smooth and pleasant.

Among the places we visited were Brauerei Greiss in Geisfeld, Brauerei Göller in Drosendorf and, my favourite, Brauerei Knoblach in Schammelsdorf. Greiss has Greisskeller in the countryside just outside the village, which is also very nice and Knoblach has a large "bierkeller" in front of the brewery tap. On weekends, they open at 9 in the morning and we got there around 10. It was really lovely, as was the beer.

We next headed to Waischenfeld, a small town near Bayreuth. We wanted to go to a brewery tap I've been to before in the town of Heckenhof. The transport office at the tourist office was a little late, but he was not able to offer us any transport. He suggested we walk there. I bought a walking map and we began the 14km journey. It was reasonably flat and we went through lovely countryside and villages almost always on paths meant only for walking and biking. It took about two hours to get there, but when we arrived we were rewarded with a lovely dark beer. The brewery is called Kathi-Bräu. We also had lunch there.

Our final stop was Regensburg, a medieval town that was one of the very few in Germany to survive the war with very little damage. Rothenburg ob der Taube is another such town, but, unlike Regensburg, the beer is not as interesting.

I've been to Regensburg several times before and very much like the Spitalgarten, which has some connection with the religious organisation next door, but I'm not sure what that is. This year, for the first time I visited the Kneitinger Keller. Unlike the countryside pubs and taps, this Keller is in the middle of a city. However, the old tree requirement is kept and the atmosphere is close to a country Keller. And the beer and food are both very good.

I've uploaded a photo called "Alte Linde". This shows another brewery tap in Regensburg with tall trees in front. Those trees are their bierkeller or biergarten.

The area bounded by Bamberg, Bayreuth and Nuremberg in Bavaria is what is usually defined as Franconian Switzerland. In this area there are over 500 breweries, mostly very small, producing beer locally and only a few are bottled. Walking from brewery to brewery is quite easy (and most are far less than 14km apart) and there are helpful sites, such as this (http://www.bierwandern.de/) which offers sample walks. The photo I called "brauereien" shows signs for a 13 brewery walk near one of the villages we visited.

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