Day Trip to Bamberg - Schlenkerla Brewery Restaurant

Winter isn't exactly the best time of year for sightseeing. But it's a great time of year for sitting in a cosy Gasthaus with some great Franconian food and beer. One of my favorite cities to visit near Zeilitzheim is Bamberg with its picturesque old town, the cathedral and of course its restaurants. My personal favorite is the Schlenkerla (though there are many more good ones to recommend).

The three of us wine makers of the "Wein von 3" winery recently visited Bamberg (we were sponsoring the New Year's Brunch of the international Sculpture Network at a friend's gallery). A visit to the Schlenkerla after the event was wrapped up was an obvious choice to grab a bite to eat and - of course - a half-litre glass of Schlenkerla Rauchbier (made from smoked malt, an acquired taste but once you're hooked... Kind of like our Baron wine that we ferment in American oak Barrique barrels: Most people either love it or hate it. Thankfully the critics mostly love it).

Each of us had one of the Franconian specialties served with wonderful dumplings (Klöße) and a side dish of either steamed red cabbage (Blaukraut) or a salad: Rinderbrust mit Meerrettichsoße (boiled beef with a tangy horseradish sauce), Sauerbraten (see link below) and Kalbshaxen (wonderfully delicate meat pulled from a roasted leg of veal). Sound vulgur? Perhaps. But it tastes wonderful. Service is efficient if boisterous in that typical and authentic Schlenkerla kind of way. Don't try ordering a Coke, or you'll get a simple "hammer net!" as a response which is slang for "haben wir nicht" (we don't have that). You're expected to drink a beer which is - unless otherwise stated - always going to be served in the smoked version. In short: I love that place!


Schlenkerla (Wikipedia)

Sauerbraten (Wikipedia)

Schlenkerla Brewery Restaurant

Schlenkerla Brewery Restaurant

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier

Triad: Beer, Blaukraut, Klöße (dumplings)

Triad: Beer, Blaukraut, Klöße (dumplings)

Germany - Mecca for Beer Lovers

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! Beer Truck Photo: a beer-delivery truck from Dreuschendorf's Meusel brewery delivering to Zeilitzheim.