New beergeek.TV Episode – Our Happy Place

Prost! at Kloster Andechs

Our Happy Place” is the latest episode of One Pint at a Time.

After a busy and stressful summer selling Teachings From The Tap, we badly needed a vacation. And we could think of no better place than our happy place: Germany. Starting in Franconia, we explored the countryside, as well as completed the Bamberg breweries. After a relaxing few days in Munich, we traveled south to the Bavarian Alps to drink beer, hike and go to the top of Germany.

So enjoy our latest beer adventures in Germany…

For all the episodes of One Pint at a Time go to beergeekTV.

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Hike-n-Beer, Garmisch Edition

The rain of the previous day cleared out overnight and Sunday dawned sunny and warm. With not-so-epic weather scheduled to come back in on Monday, this needed to be the day for our favorite travel activity, hiking in the Alps.

Olympic Ski Stadium

The hike I had picked out for us was to the Schachenhaus, a hütte (hut) at 1,866 meters (5,598 feet) in the mountains above Garmisch-Partenkirchen. A retreat built by King Ludwig II between 1869 and 1872, the Schachenhaus, like all hüttes, now serves as a rest stop for weary hikers. And we planned being quite weary after the three and a half hour journey.

The kickoff point for the hike was Garmisch’s Olympic Ski Stadium, home of the 1936 Winter Games. When we arrived, the gravel parking lot was already bustling with people getting all their gear together for a day in the mountains. After admiring the ski jumps, which we had never seen before in person, and checking out the stadium, we set off up the paved road.

Merideth about to enter the Partnach Gorge…

After a short walk along the road, we reached a crossroads in our hike. We could take the upper or lower trail. The highlight of the lower trail was the Partnachklamm, a walking path carved into a narrow gorge. We chose the scenic route, paid the €6 admission and donned our rain gear.

Entering the narrow gorge, the 800 meter walk was quite stunning with the sun streaming through the narrow slit at the top of the 80 meter high walls. Water streamed down the walls, falling like rain. Numerous waterfalls emptied into the Partnach River that cascaded with a large force through the narrow channel.

Nice view

Exiting the gorge and back into the bright sunlight, this was where our hike kind of went awry. Following signs for the Schachenhaus, we didn’t go the wrong way, rather the long way. The VERY LONG way.

It was a very pleasant walk up a not-too-steep grade with incredible views of the nearby peaks.  At some point, the time on the signs jumped from three hours to four and a half hours. Consulting a map, it was at this point we realized that we had taken the long trail that wrapped all the way around the mountain.

Heading back down…

It was decision time. Unfortunately, we surmised it was too late to continue on the trail we were on and make it to the Schachenhaus. It was also too late to backtrack and get on the correct trail. We decided to head back down and visit the Hintergraseck hütte. We had seen the trail to it on the way up.

Lunch!

Admittedly, I was pretty mopey on the way down. We set a lofty goal of having lunch at almost 6,000 feet in the Bavarian Alps but never made it out of the tree line. Instead, I worried, we were going to mingle with tourists dressed for a Sunday outing in town.

My mood changed when we settled into our seats on the edge of the Hintergraseck’s patio. We were amongst our fellow hikers all enjoying beers and the beautiful weather. With Paulaner Hefeweizen in hand, Merideth and I marveled at the panoramic view of the Alpine peaks. And lunch was very Bavarian. Merideth ordered Leberkäse while I went with the Landjäger, semi-dried sausage. We even had time to make a friend, the hütte’s sheep dog who split time between playing with us and watching over his sheep.

Dessert!

With a few beers in me, I was in a better mood on the final descent. Even encountering scores of normal tourists along this part of the trail couldn’t ruin my contented feeling. Almost back in civilization, we stopped at another hütte, where we each enjoyed more Hefeweizens and split a yummy Apfelstrudel. Continuing on after dessert, we were back at our car in a few minutes.

The silver lining to not accomplishing our goal, besides spending a great day together, is that we will need to return some day to try again. And now I know exactly what trail we need to go up.

View all the images from our day…

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Alpine Ramblings

After a couple of days Munich, Merideth and I headed south for the Bavarian Alps. The last phase of our trip, the focus of our time in the mountains would be hiking and the great outdoors. Of course, we also found time to visit a few breweries.

Mühlfeldbräu in Bad Tölz

Leaving Munich mid-morning, we arrived at our first destination, Bad Tölz, in no time. A town along the Isar River with a rich history, we were there to visit  its brewery, Mühlfeldbräu. Located along the main thoroughfare, Merideth and I were the first customers of the day.

First beer of the day…

An anomaly of German breweries we have visited, Mühlfeldbräu was café-like: bright and airy with a very modern decor. I don’t say that in a bad way. Just that in a beer culture built on tradition, different stands out.

Sitting at one of the high tables in front of the counter, Merideth and I each enjoyed one of the pleasant house-brewed Helles. The decor might have non-traditional, but the beer was very Bavarian.

Oberammergau

Bad Tölz was only a quick stop and Merideth and I were soon headed south again on our journey to the Alps. Hopping onto the Deutsche Alpenstraße, we were on familiar ground having driven the scenic road on several occasions.

Despite its charm and idyllic Bavarian setting, we avoided Oberammergau on our previous visits to the area. Famous for the town’s production of the Passion Play, Oberammergau is a very, very popular tourist destination. But now we had a reason to visit Oberammergau, there was a brewery in town.

Ammergauer Maxbräu in the Hotel Maximillian

Ammergauer Maxbräu was located in the Hotel Maximillian. Luckily for us, it was on the periphery of the tourist-laden center of the village. An amazing, glorious day with bright blue skies, there was no question we were going to enjoy their beers and some lunch, in the beer garden.

Merideth enjoying a gorgeous day in Bavaria

When I woke up in the morning, I never thought we would be part of a wedding party that day. I chose our particular table because it was right next to a really cool fountain. Moments after sitting down, a waitress started setting up the table a few feet from us with champagne flutes. Sure enough, a few minutes later, a small wedding party arrived and mingled around the table. Admittedly, we felt a bit odd, wondering whether we should move. The wedding party didn’t seem to mind, so we stayed put. Merideth and I cheered the happy couple.

The beers were nice and it was a wonderful lunch. Merideth enjoyed the Klassik Flammkuchen. Being a bit porked out (blasphemy), I was very un-Bavarian and went with the Junger Blattsalat, a big salad.

Kloster Ettal

After a quick walk through the center of Oberammergau, it was time for us to head back down the Deutsche Alpenstraße towards our final destination of the day, Garmisch-Partenkirchen. A few miles down the road, Kloster Ettal, with its massive dome, dominates the landscape. Though it was already on The List, we could not pass right by without stopping.

Merideth drinking a Etaller Helles

We set up at the cafe in front of the monastery mainly because the beer gardens across the street were already in the shade. While watching multitudes our fellow tourists, bikers, elderly, families pass by, we finished the day’s alpine ramblings enjoying the Kloster’s Helles and Benediktiner Weizen.

View all the images from the day…

Rainy and overcast in the Alps…

The following day could not have been more different. Clouds and rain came in overnight shrouding the craggy Alpine peaks in mist. Being a veteran beer traveler, I already had a Plan B for such an occasion. Scrapping our planned hike in the hills above Garmisch-Parternkirchen, we headed towards the nearby Austrian border.

Hotel Thaneller, home of Stadl-bräu, the highest-altitude brewery in Austria.

In less than an hour, we were in the Austrian village of Berwang. A thriving ski area, the village was eerily deserted in the September rain. Parking across the street from Hotel Thaneller, we surmised it wasn’t a total ghost town as there was another car also in the gravel lot. Merideth and I wandered into the equally deserted lobby in search of their Hausbrauerei, Stadl-bräu.

A rainy day beer…

We finally located the brewpub on the second floor and even found people (staff). Oddly, there seemed to be a multitude of them, given that it was only the two of us in the whole restaurant. We grabbed an out of the way table in the front room.

With nothing much planned for the day, we  enjoyed a few beers and leisurely lunch, splitting an order of the Jägerschnitzel.

View all the Berwang images…

Merideth in rainy Eisenberg

Looping back into Germany, we were on our way to the village of Eisenberg and its brewery, the Maria Hilfer Sudhaus. Finding the brewery on the Interwebs, what intrigued me was their Allgäuer Bier–Käse Wanderung, a five stop beer and cheese walk in the village.

One the one hand, the rainy weather was the reason we had time to visit Maria Hilfer Sudhaus. The downside was, when we arrived, the rain was the heaviest of the day, preventing any sort of walk except a quick dash to the brewpub’s front door.

A busy day at Maria Hilfer Sudhaus

Walking in, we immediately faced a couple that seemingly were waiting for a table. Proceeding to the main dining area, we were confronted with a packed room, everyone enjoying a hearty lunch on the rainy afternoon. All the tables were full, except for one, a large pie-shaped table that was completely empty. Merideth and I immediately thought it was the Stammtisch, but the sassy waitress gestured to us that we could sit there. Admittedly, we didn’t feel comfortable until more people joined us at this huge table (Later, I spotted the real Stammtisch nearby).

A couple of Vollbiers at Maria Hilfer Sudhaus

Soon, we had two Vollbiers and a basket of pretzels sitting in front of us. The food looked really good, especially the Schweinebraten. We really should have split a plate but munched on some pretzels instead.

We thought about playing scrabble. But people continued to stream in and we felt bad about taking up a table to play a board game. Finished with our beers and satisfied with adding two breweries to The List, we returned to Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

View all the Eisenberg images…

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Completing Bamberg

On our first trip to Bamberg, we half-joked that we were going to visit all of the city’s breweries in one day. Five years and two visits later, Merideth and I were back in the Franconian city to complete that lofty beer traveler goal.

Scenic Bamberg

On that first visit, a whirlwind one-day stop in 2007, we managed drink beer at most of Bamberg’s breweries. We picked up one more brewery passing through during our May Year in Beer visit (of course chronicled in Merideth’s book, Teachings from the Tap). This time around we stayed three days, plenty of time to complete Bamberg.

Where the malt is made…

One of the Bamberg breweries missing from the List, Brauerei Spezial opened at 9am, a beer traveler’s dream. Thus, we were on the move early, heading from our vacation apartment towards the city center. With a leisurely pace, we took a circuitous route from our apartment so we could marvel at the nearby Weyermann Malzerei.

Brauerei Spezial

Beer gardens are not always packed with maß clinking revelers. Passing through Spezial’s huge doors into their interior courtyard beer garden, we saw only one other customer, an older gentleman sitting in the corner. It WAS only 10am after all. Since it was a warm, beautiful morning, Merideth and I chose one of the empty tables in the sun.

A Rauchbier to start the day…

Much to Merideth’s chagrin, Spezial did not have their one non-smoked beer, the Ungespundetes. The only beer available was their Märzen Rauchbier. To her credit, Merideth did give it a try.

A brilliant copper color, the smoke was prominent on top of a somewhat surprising light-bodied brew.

Merideth was a real trooper because I insisted on going straight from Spezial to Schlenkerla so we could compare Bamberg’s two Rauchbier breweries. Crossing the Main-Donau canal at the Luitpoldbrücke, we headed into the heart of the tourist zone. Resisting the desire to join a tour group, we were seated in the almost equally deserted Schlenkerla beer garden within minutes.

The perfect pairing…

We ordered one of their Rauchbiers and and an order of the Schweinebraten, roast pork. Rauchbier might be an acquired taste, but that taste could be acquired by pairing it with succulent roast pork.

The Schlenkerla Rauchbier had a much deeper body, with more notes of smoked ham than it’s lighter Spezial counterpart. Just like I remembered and enjoyed it in 2007.

Wilde Rose Keller

Early in the evening, we returned to the City Center on our way to the the top of one of the numerous hills in Bamberg. Walking up Oberer Stepansburg, we were on our way to the Wilde Rose Keller. Through social media, we were told that we HAD to visit the hilltop beer garden.

There was only a smattering of people when we arrived. I had visions of sitting at a table overlooking the city but a multitude trees blocked any view. We chose a table in the middle under the trees and settled in.

Dinner at the Wilde Rose Keller

Wilde Rose Keller had house beers, but I will admit I’m not sure who brews them. Needing a refreshing beer after the walk up the hill, I ordered us two Hefeweizens to start. Once we settled in, we moved on to the Kellerbier. Both were quite delicious, perfect for the setting.

For dinner, Merideth ordered us a variety of our Bavarian favorites: cheese, Obatzda, bread, pickles and pretzels.

A wonderful evening…

As Merideth and I enjoyed our beers and food and played scrabble (I won 281-246, my only triumph of the trip), the beer garden steadily filled up with families, groups, friends, and couples. Some brought picnics and set up camp. Everyone was enjoying the beer and an absolutely beautiful Bavarian evening.

Bamberg in the evening…

Our favorite stop in Bamberg

The following morning we had blocked off for doing laundry. Much to our delight, we found a inexpensive, fast-service laundromat that would do the work for us (Bamberger Waschsalon…they speak English too). That meant instead of sitting in a laundromat on a beautiful day, we had the morning to explore Bamberg while our clothes were being washed. We decided to traipse back up the hill to Greifenklau, our favorite beer garden in Bamberg.

More enjoyable than doing laundry

The chestnut tree shaded beer garden has a panoramic view of the nearby countryside including the Altenburg, the 12th century castle a few kilometers distant. The first customers of the day, we found a somewhat sunny seat in the morning chill. While drinking a couple of krugs of their lager, we watched a red squirrel play amongst the apple trees in the grove below. What a great way to kill time.

Farm to table at Brauerei Kundmüller

Laundry sorted, we could now think about lunch. Driving a dozen kilometers west of Bamberg into the Steigerwald, Merideth and I found ourselves in the tiny village of Weiher at Brauerei Kundmüller. The restaurant and brewery were located next to their farm which included a Streichelzoo, or petting zoo, for the wee ones.

Lunch!

Walking into beer garden, we felt the stares of the locals at the Stammtisch who I assume don’t see too many American beer travelers. Leaving Merideth at a table under the big tree under the watchful eyes of the locals, I went inside to order our lunch, house-made sausages and their European Beer Star award-winning Kellerbier.

While enjoying our meal on another warm and sunny Franconian day, we watched some of the animals in the Streichelzoo, guinea pigs, rabbits, pigs and goats. We did wonder when the two pigs were going to be Schweinehaxe, Schweinebraten and hausgemacht Bratwurst.

Our last Bamberg brewery…

On the way back into the city, we stopped at the last Bamberg brewery that we needed to add, Kaiserdom. We stopped at Kaiserdom during our 2008 visit only to find it oddly closed. Pulling into the almost empty restaurant parking lot, I did get a bit worried that we were going to miss out again. It was with a great relief that the front door opened.

Merideth and I were the only customers besides a largish tour group of Russians. Ordering a Zwickelbier and Pilsner, Merideth and I basked in our accomplishment, we had completed Bamberg.

Last beer in Bamberg… for this trip

We finished our third Bamberg visit where we began our first one, at Mahrs Bräu. We were off to Munich the following morning, the next phase of our trip. Such transitions often get us in a reflective mood. Finally spending an extended amount of time in the city gave us the opportunity to experience more of Bamberg’s many charms. Though we had now added all the breweries, we saw ourselves visiting again. There is still the Weyermann tour to do… And we need to add our padlock to the bridge

View all the Bamberg images…

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Funf Seidla Steig

People often ask me and Merideth why we travel to Germany as often as we do. A recent sunny Sunday in Franconia provides a great answer to this question.

The kloster in Weißenohe

Searching for breweries to visit during our time in Bamberg, I noticed a cluster of five breweries to the southeast around the village of Gräfenberg in the Fränkische Schweiz. Intrigued, I researched a bit further and learned about the Fünf Seidla Steig (‘five beer mug hike’), a 10km hiking trail (15km round trip) that connects the breweries. Hiking and beer? What a brilliant idea!

Leaving Ute and Wolfie in Mannheim on Sunday morning, we sped east on the autobahn towards our first destination, the village of Weißenohe. Home to Klosterbrauerei Weißenohe, this was supposed to be our kickoff point for the hike.

Under the trees at Klosterbrauerei Weissenohe

Our plan somewhat hit a hitch when we reached Weißenohe. Besides the small lot at the monastery, we couldn’t really find parking in the tiny village’s winding narrow streets. Hungry and thirsty after the three hour drive, we decided park there rather than continuing to search around for a place to leave our rental car for the day.

A small lane into the monastery split the restaurant from an apple tree shaded beer garden across the street. With the day bordering on absolutely beautiful, we opted for a table in the beer garden.

A proper lunch to start a hike

There was one beer available on tap in the beer garden, their Altfränkisches Klosterbier. Two beers and two orders of bratwurst with bread and potato salad were quickly ordered. The copper-colored brew was reminiscent of a Märzen, with a slight malty sweetness.

Enjoying the brats and beer under the shade of apple trees was perfect start to the day. Even the annoying little girl on the slide couldn’t ruin the moment. Though she did make filming difficult. It was a picture postcard moment of what it means to beer travel in Germany.

Brauerei Friedmann in Gräfenberg

The ability to adapt to changes in plans is key to successful beer travel. After lunch, we decided to drive the few kilometers to Gräfenberg to find parking and start our hike. Just before the village gate, we found the parking we were looking for. And better yet, our second stop, Brauerei Friedmann, was across the street.

Merideth and a couple of Helles…

Grabbing a seat in their street side beer garden, Merideth and I each ordered a Helles. From our vantage point, we watched groups of hikers enter the village and join the crowd in Friedmann’s beer garden.

We recognized a few people from our first stop. Actually, it was the dogs that we recognized first. A trend that would continue the whole day, Merideth and I realized that we were part of a whole community doing the same thing: hiking and drinking beer. The thought gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Well-marked trails make for an easy beer hike

With the car safely in a long-term parking spot, we could now plan our hike. Not knowing the distance of the hike, we decided Friedmann was a ‘one and done’ stop (well, two and done for me). Once our beers were finished, we walked into the village center where we assumed there would be hiking information.

In the Gräfenberg village center, we found what we were seeking, a big map of the local hiking trails. From this, we ascertained we needed to work our way to the far side of the village. There we would find the trail to Hohenschwärz and the next brewery. Brauerei Hoffman was five kilometers away.

A beautiful day for a beer hike…

Easily finding the trail, Merideth and I left Gräfenberg. From the edge of the village, we walked into a forest. We emerged from the woods into the open, surrounded by fields of corn. The terrain was fairly level and made for pleasant, not strenuous, hiking. We passed couples, families, groups of friends, and people of all ages. Everyone out walking on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

Well-deserved after a five kilometer walk

Reaching Hohenschwärz, we would have found Brauerei Hoffman right along the trail if we hadn’t mistakenly taken a round about route through the tiny village. The Hoffman beer garden was quite packed with hikers and bicyclists when we finally located it. Spying two seats at an otherwise full table, Merideth asked the people “Frei?”  Getting a positive response, we squeezed in at the end of the table.

Pork and beer…

Looking around while waiting for our waitress, I noticed that everyone had a dark beer. Sure enough, from my request for “Zwei Bier, bitte,” our waitress delivered two deep brown, almost black half liters. Despite the dark color, the brew had a light, refreshing body.

Having just walked five kilometers, we treated ourselves by sharing a plate of the delicious Schweinebraten. From pigs I believe they raised themselves, the pork roast paired exceptionally well with the house brew. It’s great when the farm to table distance can be measured in a few meters.

Lindenbräu in Gräfenberg

Two kilometers further up the trail, there was another brewery, Thuisbrunner Eichbräu. But given advancing afternoon, we decided retrace our steps back to Gräfenberg. There was a bounce in our step as we passed through the same fields and forests on our way to Lindenbräu.

Beers to celebrate a hike well done…

Located on a side street in the village, Lindenbräu was our fourth and last brewery stop of the day. Joining an older couple at one of the outside tables, we ordered a couple of beers. Merideth chose the refreshing, light on the banana and clove, Hefeweizen, while I went with the copper-colored, malty but not too sweet, Vollbier.

Our mood was quite jovial as we drank our beers. In a trip full of great days, our day of hiking and beer on the Fünf Seidla Steig very well may have been my favorite. Though we only visited four of the five breweries on the trail, that gives us the perfect excuse to return someday to do the full 15 kilometer loop.

View all the Fünf Seidla Steig images…

 

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