Monday, November 8, 2010

Part 1: Bamberg (again)

We spent 3 days in Bamberg, so it goes to reason that I'd do more than 1 post about it. My last post focused on world-famous Schlenkerla's annual release of their delicious Urbock.This time, let's take a look at some of Bamberg's other offerings.

Ask a beer lover to name two breweries from Bamberg, and they'll probably name Schlenkerla and Spezial. To no surprise, those were two of our primary destinations.
Spezial Märzen
I ordered the märzen at Spezial, which is less smoky than Schlenkerla's and reminded me of bratwurst:  lightly smoky, a little spice (nutmeg, allspice), and minimal hop flavor with subtle bitterness to round out the smoked malt. Mr Wort Hog ordered their lager, which I actually preferred over the märzen. It, too, is smoked, and has a subtle grassy, lightly sulphuric aroma. The fresh pils malt flavor and noble hop flavor were perfectly balanced, as most German lagers tend to be. With a clean, bitter finish, their smoked lager ended up becoming one of my favorite beers we had in Bamberg.

Both Schlenkerla and Spezial malt and smoke their own barley, using aged beechwood logs to obtain the smoke character in their beers. Schlenkerla malts year-round, while Spezial malts only in the winter. Since the smoke character of the malt deteriorates as it ages, blending different batches is key to maintaining consistency in the flavor of their beers. Weyermann in Bamberg is one of the most well-known providers of smoked malt and also uses aged beechwood to make its smoked malt.

Not every brewery in Bamberg makes rauchbier, however. Across the street from Spezial is Fässla. We didn't stop in there, but had earlier tried a couple of their beers at a little pub in the city center. I had their Pils and Mr 'Hog got a dunkel. Their pils was fabulous - spicy, floral noble hop flavor with moderately-high carbonation and moderate body. It was very crisp and refreshing, with a lightly sweet grainy pils sweetness at the end. When you're ready for a break from rauchbier, Fässla is definitely worth a visit.

We made two separate visits to Bamberg's oldest brewery, Klosterbräu (äu is pronounced "oi"). It was founded in 1533 and has been owned by the same family since 1851. I ordered their "Braun" beer, thinking it must be some sort of German brown lager I'd never heard of. (since braun means brown, that seems reasonable, right?) Nope, turns out the place was the "Prince Bishop Braun Bier Haus" from 1533-1790 and the beer's a dunkel. It had a sweet, toasty Munich malt character with no hop aroma and low hop bitterness. It was perfect with my traditional Franconian dinner.
My super-awesome dinner at Klosterbräu - ham hock, potato dumpling, kraut, and a dark lager.

An interesting characteristic we found in Bamberg's brewpubs is the large hallway at the large front entrance, called a "schwemm" (shvem). The pathway typically separated the building into halves, with doors going to different dining/bar rooms on each side. Additionally, nearly all of them had a little window where you could walk up and order a beer right from the barrel. Rarely was there ever a line, so it typically took under a minute to get a full half-liter glass of fresh beer.
Window for beer orders at Mahr's
Drinking in the Schwemm

We tried to make it over to Keesman, but they were closed. So, we crossed the street to Mahr's for a beer or two.

We noticed that most of the breweries in Bamberg also made their own schnapps, most of which were distilled from their rauchbier. I bought a couple shots one night at Schlenkerla, and we were quite disappointed that the schnapps had no smoke character at all. I bought a small bottle of the schnapps anyway, as a novelty to bring home. We cracked that baby open one evening and were surprised at how smoky it was! Proof that drinking rauchbier is a complete palate-wrecker. 

One of our final stops in Bamberg was Greifenklau, a brewery restaurant situated high up on one of Bamberg's many hills. The dining room was, like most of the places we went to, hotter than hell. I swear, these places had to be at least 75 degrees inside, if not warmer. Perhaps they keep it that way so you aren't too cold to drink beer.

That reminds me. Since our return, I have had about 4 or 5 people ask me, in some form, how I liked the warm beer in Germany. I have no idea why people think German beer is served warm; my best guess is that it's not served as cold as a typical macro lager, and therefore "warm". Most of what we were served was cellar temp, so probably around 50F. Far from warm, and a perfect temp for getting full aroma and flavor from the beers.

Lest you think all we did was hop from bar to bar, here are some other pictures of Bamberg I took while we wandered through town.

Walking up one of Bamberg's many hills
Bamberg Cathedral
Most of the buildings in the city center were half-timbered, and the streets were cobblestone.

More half-timbering

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