Sunday, 8 July 2012
I'm heading back to Ebermannstadt* by train. Thence by bus to Pottenstein, my destination. The impulse schnapps is finished before I leave the train. The beer lasts a little longer. A Schlenkerla Märzen. Where else but Germany would you find such a good beer in a railway station kiosk?
The ride is spectacular. Grunting, groaning and occasionally freewheeling, the bus weaves along a road clinging to a wooded hill. Not so much a hill as a cliff, really. Being Bavaria and not the Andes, there are adequate safety barriers. I think. Hopefully the driver won't test them.
Through the trees' legs, I glimpse a silver streak snaking through the valley bottom. Nothing, save a few campsites and farms, interrupts the waving wheat and woods. This is a lovely part of the world. I remember why I want to retire here. After all the growing greeny gunk, Gössweinstein looks like Shanghai when I pass through. In reality, it's barely a town, despite the huge baroque church plonked in its middle.
Pottenstein is as I recall it: tiny, picturesque, glowered over by yet another castle. Looking scarily like the TV Colditz of my youth. The bus stop is virtually next door to my lodgings, Zum Unteren Schmied. Not so much a hotel as a family home. From my room I have a great view of the former Wagner Bräu brewery. A good sign.
Mager is less than 100 metres away. I drop by for lunch. It's stopped being hot. A lead-grey sky hovers over the rooftops, threatening to unleash a hail of rain at any instant. A few hesitant drops shuffle down nervously as I take a seat out the back. I don't need an umbrella to fend off the furious fire of the sun. I need it to keep my food dry. And my beer un-watered.
Sticking with tradition, I order a Dunkles. The waiter brings it and I give it a sniff. Mmmm. Bit metallic. Maybe that's just the aroma. I take a draught. No, it's there in the gob, too. Along with some pleasant liquorice and chicory notes. Not bad. Especially if you don't go hunting for the metallic taste. I huddle closer to the umbrella as the spits of rain turn to full-on flobs. I'm still wearing shorts. Not because of the heat. They're to show off my stunningly attractive legs**.
Last time in Pottenstein the other brewery, Hufeisen, was having its rest day. I'm in luck: it's open today. I hurry to the beer garden at the rear, making sure I get a seat under cover. The sky looks no friendlier than before. Guess what I order? A coffee. 'Course not. I go, as always, for a Dunkles. In comes in a stylish branded glass.
It's as murky as the swollen streams I've crossed the last few days. Bread, yeast and sherbert from the overdose of CO2 are what hit me first. Then more spicy hops. I'm going to have to find a new word to describe the taste of German hops. That must be the 20th time I've used spicy. Grassy. That's a good one. Doesn't mean exactly the same, but it's a word often used to describe hops. It'll do for now.
I notice that they also have a Bierschnaps. A home made one. I can't possibly pass that up. I order order one to keep my beer company. It looks, but doesn't taste, like whisky. Bit bland, to be honest. Does do a pretty good job of warming me up.
The fermenting room borders on the garden. Through the window I can see a thick brown scum spread over the fermenting wort. Good to see that they've stuck with open fermenters.
Being afraid of getting caught in the rain, I linger for a second beer. That's the great thing about not being in a rush: you don't have to rush. I've a whole day ahead of me in Pottenstein. I can afford to take it easy. There's not that much to do. Except to . . . . . but that's for next time.
* All roads - and railways - in the Fränkische Schweiz lead to Ebermannstadt.
* Stunning really is the right word. Everyone who's seen them so far looks stunned. Like they've been given a whack on the back of the head with a club.
Tel: 09243 - 333
Fax: 09243 - 7586
Hauptstr. 36 - 38,
Tel.: 09243 - 260
Fax: 09243 - 7429
Pension Zum Unteren Schmied
Nürnberger Straße 8
Thursday, 16 August 2007
Tel: 09243 - 92430
Fax: 09243 - 924310
We stayed in a converted watermill (Reussenmühle) attached to the back of Goldene Krone. A very comfortable hotel, but for one small point. I'll return to that later.
I'm wasting my time with expressions like "attractive half-timbered building" and "in the centre of town". You can see the former for yourself in the photo and the latter can be deduced from the Markplatz (Market Place) address.
What can I tell you? That they sell Maisel Pils, Kellerbier and Hefeweizen on draught. That's the Bayreuth Maisel, not the Bamberg one. Being Mr Natural (though beardless), I plumped for the Kellerbier. Yeast, pepper, tobacco and spice I could pick out. But it had been a long day. Some other flavours may have been lurking in the shadows. "A good, solid, hoppy unfiltered beer" is how I summed it up in my notes. Who am I to argue with myself? (Though, in my more schizophrenic moments, I have come close.)
A pub/restaurant too food-oriented for my taste, it was comfortable enough for a pre-prandial slurp. Or two. I think Steve was already on his second when I got there. Happy days.
That Monday was so full of beery delights, I'm glad that I took notes. That hasn't prevented me from confusing the order of the pubs/breweries we drank in. For the record, we didn't get to Schroll until after Kathi-Bräu and Aichinger was after Buttenheim. I hope that's cleared things up. I wouldn't want to rewrite history. (I would really, but that's another story.)
While I'm busy with clarifications, there's something else I would like to point out that. In Forchheim and beyond I told you that I had to photographic evidence of Stonch's half-pint shame. Yet the picture of Schroll Landbier has Stonch drinking out of his girly glass in the background. My apologies. (I hope Stonch doesn't retaliate and publish some of his dodgier snaps of me.)
Tel: 09243 - 700116
Andy recommended Kachelofen for late-night drinking. He'd drunk in the pub a few months before. A young bloke at the bar, who introduced himself as Stefan, greeted Andy like a long lost friend. Someone he'd met on his last visit.
When someone suggests playing a drinking game, I start to sweat. A vision of a pool of vomit with me lying in it flashes before my eyes. It hasn't actually happened yet, but it's only a matter of time. Stefan wanted to introduce us to a drinking game. First he ordered a beer cocktail that trumps snakebite and blackcurrant for sheer awfulness: a litre glass of Pils, cola and two shots of kirsch schnapps. It was served in a dimpled glass. The idea was for each person to drink in turn and try to get down to exactly the bottom of the next dimple.
(This is a variation of a very old game, played in Holland in the 17th century. They had a special vessel called a "pas glas" (pass glass) - a tall cylindrical glass with horizontal lines at irregular intervals. You'll note that this is long before most writers would have you believe glasses were used for beer drinking. Like much else, the stories about the where, why and when of their introduction are mostly based on fantasy. I love tale of beers becoming pale after glass replaced pewter in 19th century England. In fact the opposite happened; when London pubs swapped to glasses it was about the time when the most popular drink, Mild, changed from pale to dark. Here's an interesting account of the reason for the switch away from pots by the manager of the Pembury Arms - now Tavern - in 1897. Sorry for diversion. I'll now return to the narrative.)
The Pils-cola-kirsch mix tasted as disgusting as it sounds, but it seemed impolite not to join in. In between having my teeth dissolved by the revolting sweet liquid, I chatted with Stefan and his mustachioed mate. Stefan, it turned out, was a policeman. The most laid-back policeman I've met. But this is Franconia. Not exactly a seething hotbed of crime. He was a mine of fascinating background information on the area, most of which I've forgotten. High unemployment, youngsters move away, the village communities aren't as tight as they once were. That's the gist. (I've concentrated two hours conversation into one sentence. How's that for being concise?)
Later, over his third or fourth beer, Stefan told me that he didn't live in Pottenstein, but a small village a few kilometres away. "How do you get home then?" I asked. He just shrugged and gave me a sly smile. Right. He must walk.
Look at me, rattling away. I've forgotten to tell you what beer was on. Kaiser Pils and Weizen on draught. I didn't fancy either and went for the bottled Echt Veldensteiner Landbier (also from Kaiser). A "sweetish, malty and chewy Munich-style Dunkles" my notes say. The second worst Dunkles I had on the trip (after the crappy Weltenburger), but still drinkable. The people at RateBeer call it a Zwickel/Keller/Landbier, I suppose based on the name. Total bollocks, as it's a filtered/force carbonated beer for a start. At 5.4% ABV and 12.5º Plato and sweet, it seems pretty obviously a Dunkles Export (Munich style). Why haven't they classified it as that? Oh, I know, because no-one in the US style Nazi community has noticed that the style exists yet. How can anyone lump this together with something like St. Georgen Kellerbier, a bitter, spicy, pale, cloudy beer?
While Paul and I were busy with Stefan, Andy was chatting to the crazy landlord, Sigi, a Saxon with a beard birds could nest in. A proper landlord of the old school: begutted and with rather too much liking for his own wares. Andy had been much taken by the Kaiser lampshades in the form of a miniature copper. He asked Sigi if he could buy one for 5 euros. "No". This wasn't the curt refusal it seemed. Sigi disappeared and returned with a screwdriver. He then unscrewed one of the lampshades from the ceiling and presented it to Andy, free of charge and with the flex still attached. Remember I mentioned
"He won't remember what happened tomorrow." Stefan told me, before detailing Sigi's normal daily alcohol intake. "His wife will go crazy when she sees it's missing. He'll probably tell her aliens took it."
We stayed until around midnight, which was late for us. Early starts drove us to our beds before ten most evenings. Sigi's eccentricities extended to his mathematics, too.
Phew! I've finally finished telling you about Happy Monday. Just two more days to go. Who's going to give up first, do you think, me or you?
Wednesday, 15 August 2007
When will I be finished with my Franconia trip? It feels like I've been posting on the topic for several months. Must be even worse for you.
You know a place is small when the address is just a house number. The Franconian beer guide says: "There are no convenient public transportation connections". Well that's why I was on the tour: to get to such inaccessible spots.
Kathi-Bräu sits on top of a hill in what you could just about call a village. The combination of remote location and a total lack of signs make it difficult to spot. I tell a lie. There is a small sign over the door, but that's facing away from the road. Should be nice and peaceful inside. Er. . . not really.
It was just about midday when we arrived, yet we were lucky to find a table. We chose the smaller of the two rooms, which looked rather like a granny's front parlour. Poking my head around the door, I saw that the main bar was packed. A coach party of pensioners, it looked like. Then the bikers started turning up. They sat in their leathers, sipping lemonade. Seems like a form of torture to me, going to a brewery and not being able to drink.
As I said, it was midday when we got there. The good choice of sausage snacks made it perfect for lunch. I had Knackwurst. Not that that will be of any interest to you. I decided to tell you, anyway. I have to fill this blog with something. Have you idea how much work all that historical stuff is?
The beer? They brew just one, a Dunkles. Very tasty. "Nice, malty dark lager. Very, very drinkable. "Liquorice, roast, cream, toffee and pepper are all flavours I noted down. I could say anything I like about it, as your chances of trying it are slim. They don't bottle. Or distribute. You can buy small barrels to take away, but they were out that day.
To say Pottenstein scenic is like calling the pope a bear. No, hold on, that's not it. Like calling Hitler slightly disturbed. It's gob-smackingly beautiful. Crouching in a steep alley, a couple of streets of half-timbered houses are ringed by cliffs. Perched on the top, a castle looms over the town. It reminded me of Colditz. I suppose the local lord liked keeping an eye on his subjects and leaving them in no doubt who was boss. Lovely as it now looks, it must have been as intimidating as a nuclear missile when built.
In addition to great beauty, the town also has two breweries.
Tel: 09243 - 333
Fax: 09243 - 7586
We arrived in Pottenstein early afternoon. Andy gave us a couple of hours free time, which some (I'm naming no names here Stonch) used for a quick kip. I'm made of stronger stuff.
Records are there to be broken. Mine for breweries in a day stood at a measly four. And I visited other pubs in between. Mager was brewery number six that day. Six breweries in a row. Would it live up to the others?
I call it 1960's rustic. The type of folksy pine decor that's popular in Southern Germany. Mager is a good example. A bit bland, but comfortable enough. Must have been a quiet time because there was only one other customer. A bloke with a tash reading the paper and chain smoking. Your archetypal German pub customer, really.
They serve three draught beers: Dunkles, Helles and Pils. It took so long to pour my Dunkles, that the barmaid had time to wander off to the kitchen a couple of times. Finally, a very good-looking half litre arrived in front of me. It really did look great - deep brown with red highlights and a fluffy, cream-coloured head. I'll be honest, it was all I could do to stop myself drooling down my shirt a la Homer Simpson.
The low carbonation and complicated, slow pour made me suspect air-pressure dispense. I changed my mind later. What a great beer. Bags of complex dark malt flavours overlain by a shimmering layer of hops. (Can hops shimmer? Sorry, that's just the first word that came into my head.) Just the sort of Franconian beer I love, malty but full of hops. By hops I mean aromatic spiciness, not scorched-earth bitterness.
I didn't try the Helles or Pils. I was very happy with the Dunkles. Find a good beer and stick to it, that's my motto. Plus I'd already tried multiple beers that day. Drinking for pleasure mode had kicked in. You may be a superman, but when out drinking in pubs (or at beer festivals) I can only really taste half a dozen beers, at most. There are too many distractions . And who wants to be the nerd too busy taking notes to chat and joke?
That evening, the group ate in Mager. The menu was full of Franconian specialities: Schäufele, homemade Roulade, Schweinshaxe and Pfannenschnitzel. Tempting as these were, I went for a venison stew. You don't often get game here in Holland. (Or decent sausages, for that matter.)
They must have done something to the gas pressure during the afternoon. The beer we consumed with the food was far fizzier than my afternoon pint. Maybe not air pressure after all, then.
It's all rather dull so far, isn't it? All the amusing stuff occurred much later. I'm saving that for tomorrow.
Hauptstr. 36 - 38,
Tel.: 09243 - 260
Fax: 09243 - 7429
Pottenstein's other brewery is on the same street as Mager. Well, most everything - church, bank, shops - is on the same street. It's a small town.
Hufeisen is located in another half-timbered building. Unusually for a long-established German brewpub, the brewery is in the bar. Most places like this have them in separate building at the rear. Until 1990, when the kettles were moved inside, that was the case. The old brewery has been converted into an off-licence and a bar.
There isn't much else I can tell you. There wasn't much I could make out through the window; Monday is their rest day. "A bit dodgy" was Andy's comment on their beer.
More Pottenstein tomorrow, including Andy's new hat, the drinking policeman and a crazy Saxon. Sounds great, doesn't it?