There is an article in today's online version of Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung in the travel section that discusses how Americans view Germany today. The basic premise is that generally speaking Americans have a positive opinion of Germany.
Interestingly - according to the cited study - the one topic Americans would like to receive more information on in regard to Germany is German beer. That may have to do with the fact that to many Americans Germany is synonymous with the Oktoberfest, which is actually in September but - as we all know - is a Mecca for Beer drinkers. But the strength of Germany's beer culture lies less in big drinking events like the Oktoberfest and more in the high quality of beer brewed by small breweries that usually almost exclusively sell locally.
Especially our region of Franken (Franconia) is well known for its beer. Zeilitzheim sits right on the border between wine country and beer country. The hills alongside the valleys through which the main river flows, that lie to our north and west, are lined with vineyards. The area to the east is predominantly beer-brewing country, however. Especially Oberfranken with its cities Bamberg, Bayreuth, Coburg, Hof and Kulmbach is known for excellent beer.
Here are a two of my personal favorite breweries:
Of course our local brewery in Krautheim (next village over) must be named first in any list of this sort. Here beer has brewed for generations by the Düll family. The staple variety is Pilsner but also the Weizen or Weißbier (a wheat beer that ferments in the bottle and is generally consumed with the leftover yeast that gathers at the bottom of the bottle mixed in).
My second favorite beer has to be Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier (Original Schlenkerla Smokebeer) which is a Märzen beer that obtains its unique smoky flavor from roasting the malt over burning a beechwood log fire (the brewery has a good description of the entire process). It is bottled and sold in crates of 20 bottles of a half liter each (which is the standard convention of delivering beer in southern Germany). I personally do not buy the Schlenkerla beer bottled, however, as the on-tap version that is served in the brewery's Schlenkerla restaurant in Bamberg from oakwood casks is far superior to the bottled version. Of course drinking this beer in the Bamberg restaurant is an experience in itself and a must-visit for anybody traveling to Germany. While you can also order good, typically-Franconian food there, you can also bring your own "Brotzeit" (or snack) which is a tradition that follows that of beer gardens throughout Eastern Franconia and Bavaria in general. It is a dying custom, however, especially in full-fledged restaurants like the Schlenkerla. I recommend buying a fresh German sourdough bread at a local bakery, a good chunk of Blutwurst (blood sausage) or Leberwurst (liver sausage) or a more benign version if you can't stomach the sound of the two named above and enjoying these with the Rauchbier at one of the sturdy tables in the Schlenkerla brewery restaurant. You will have to have at least two of these beers to fully develop a sense and appreciation of its unique taste, however. And please don't ask for a small beer when ordering: the half-liter glass is the small beer and is exactly what you get if you place your order "ein Bier bitte!".
Actually: what you get when ordering a beer depends strongly on local customs so you'll have quite a different experience throughout Bavaria when doing so. In regions where Pilsner is the staple beer (as in Zeilitzheim and surrounding villages), that is what you get when simply ordering "ein Bier". In large parts of Bavaria you will get a "Helles" which is a lager beer. In the Schlenkerla brewery you will get the smoky Märzen.
I'll be posting articles about some more of my favorite regional beers and Franconian beer culture soon, so please stay tuned! Photo: a beer-delivery truck from Dreuschendorf's Meusel brewery delivering to Zeilitzheim.