“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.