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…


Back in Munich

The walk to Kloster Andechs
The walk to Kloster Andechs

Another long (and fortunately) uneventful day of travel landed us in our favorite beer city, Munich. We used our two days in the Bavarian capitol to recover from jet lag before starting our beer adventures.

We arrived at our hotel in the city center and had just enough time to take a quick shower before jumping on the train to Herrsching. We headed for one of our favorite breweries, Kloster Andechs, something we had been unable to do our last several times in Munich.  We also had a date with our friend Willy,  A-B’s hop guy in Europe who we first met last September.

Apparently the previous week in Munich was full of sun and warm temperatures, but on our first day the weather was chilly and rainy. The rain fell lightly during our train journey until we reached our destination. Exiting the train in a downpour, we dreaded the 45 minute walk to the monastery in heavy rain. But we refused to take the bus, the other means of getting up to the kloster from the train station. Luckily the rain let up a few minutes after leaving the train station and we reached the monastery fairly dry… well except for the sweat running down our faces.

Enjoying a Dunkel at Kloster Andechs
Enjoying pickles, dampfnudel and our Dunkels at Kloster Andechs

We quickly found Willy and decided to sit outside in the covered part of the beer garden. The hot, steamy and loud braustüble was not a good jet lag recovery atmosphere. Once situated outside, I went for a round of beers while Willy headed to get some food.

It was good to be back at Andechs after a three year absence. As we caught up with Willy, we enjoyed the Andechs beer offerings, Helles, Dunkel and Doppelbock.  We even tried the Apfelweiß, a  mixture of apple juice and Weißbeer. Not a lover of beer cocktails, adding apple juice to Weißbeer seemed to me to be a good way to ruin a perfectly good beer.  Luckily, Willy ordered it so my manhood never came into question.

With our evening complete, it was time to head back to Munich for some much needed sleep.

Sunday’s weather dawned better, which was important because the plan was to visit two beer gardens new to us. On the advice of Willy, we also added a third. The Königlicher Hirschgarten, an Augustiner beer garden a short S-Bahn ride outside of central Munich.

Löwenbräu Keller

Before hitting the beer gardens, we walked to the Löwenbräu Keller. We had been there on a previous trip but hadn’t counted it on “the List”,  because I wasn’t sure about the location of the brewery. This is rather stupid on my part because the monstrous brewery, I learned  just recently, is almost directly across the street. Walking around the corner from the Keller, the Löwenbräu brewery cannot me missed. It butts up to its neighbor brewery Spaten.

With the brewery location verified, we joined the Sunday morning crowd in the Keller. I think we were supposed to have Weißbier  but each of us went with our respective Munich favorites, Helles for Merideth and Dunkel for myself. With a lot to do, we only had time for a quick half-liter.

Ein Maß at the Königlicher Hirschgarten

We made a short stop at one of our favorite beer gardens, the Seehaus. Then it was off to the Hirschgarten, an easy 5 minute walk from the Laim S-Bahn station.

The largest of Munich’s beer gardens with 8,000 seats, the Hirschgarten was the former royal hunting grounds (Hirsch means deer in German). Even today, deer wander the park, though they all must have been hiding from the large crowds the day of our visit.

The Hirschgarten’s other claim to fame is that they are the one of the few remaining beer gardens where you select your liter mug from a cabinet and wash it before having it filled.

Tradtional Bavarian dancing
The May Pole dance

We easily found a seat and each ordered ein Maß and some lunch. There were a number of people in traditional outfits and we learned from the menu that it was “Trachtentag”. This is a day when the locals dress up in traditional clothes and perform traditional songs and dances. We were treated to everything from traditional Chevy Chase slap dance to an accordion accompanied by the cracking of horse whips. Most impressive was the intricate May pole dance, where the dancers wound the colored ribbons around the pole.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the Hirschgarten and passed on visiting the other beer gardens. The weather was beautiful, so we enjoyed our liters and the entertainment in the sunshine. The others would have to wait for our next visit to Munich.

Dinner at the Wirtshaus Ayinger
Dinner at the Wirtshaus Ayinger

We ended our day with our two traditional Munich stops. First, Weisses Brauhaus for a Hefe Weizen. Then it was up the street to the Wirtshaus Ayinger for Kellerbier and dinner. We had a fun-filled day but it was time to retire. We had an early flight to Dortmund on Monday.


Heading Back to Germany

This will be our ninth visit to Germany, which ties it with Ireland as the country we most frequently visit. The beer, food, scenery and German people keep us returning to our favorite country for beer travel.

With Wolfie at the Porterhouse in Dublin

But this trip is extra special. We are going over for our friend Wolfgang’s 50th birthday party. We’ll join the horde of his friends descending on Mannheim the last weekend in July for fun, merriment and  punk show.

Prior to Wolfgang’s birthday party weekend, we are stopping in Munich and embarking on a “City with a Beer Style” tour. We will visit three German cities: Dortmund, Düsseldorf and Cologne. Each has it’s own unique style of beer.

The Biergarten at Kloster Andechs

We are using our short time in the much beloved city of Munich to get our European legs, visit  a few biergartens, see friends, and of course drink some liters.

While in Munich we’ll make another pilgrimage to Kloster Andechs. The trek was something we used to fit in to our schedule every time in Munich, but on our  last few visits we haven’t had the time. The walk, beer, food, and atmosphere all make Kloster Andechs one our favorite breweries.

After getting adjusted to being back in Europe, we head north for some new beer adventures.

Dortmund Union Brauerei (DUB)

Our first new city will be Dortmund. There we’ll search for Dortmunder, which is a native beer style, not a city resident. Back in the day, this beer was popular with the region’s coal miners and steel workers. Think of Dortmunder as a cross between a Helles and a Pilsner.

Unfortunately, over the last decades, the style has suffered the ill effects of brewery mergers. The two major breweries in Dortmund, DAB and DUB, have gobbled up the smaller competitors. The style that put Dormund on the beer map is now only a small portion of their production. Today, a few private breweries are trying to revive this brew and restore it to it’s past glory.

Zum Uerige in Düsseldorf

From Dortmund, we travel down the road to Düsseldorf, the home of the top fermented Altbier. Alt means ‘old’ and the name is simply a reference to the fact that the brew predates bottom fermenting beers.

Unlike it’s neighbor in Dortmund,  Altbier is thriving in Düsseldorf, with breweries in the Altstadt serving the copper-colored brew from wooden barrels.

Our last stop on the ‘German Cities with a Beer Style’ tour is Cologne, the home of Kölsch. Another top fermenting brew, the golden-hued Kölsch may be the ultimate session beer. It certainly makes for a enjoyable afternoon with friends.

Enjoying a few Kölsch at Früh am Dom

The waiters buzz around with their trays, called a Kranz, filled with 7 ounce glasses, called a Stange, of Kölsch. They dispense the brew with amazing speed. Once a Stange is empty they drop off a new beer, adding a tick mark to the beer mat. The beer deliveries stop and the ritual comes to an end when the mat is placed on top of the glass. Our last time at Früh am Dom, one of Cologne’s main Kölsch bars, six of us finished with 40 tick marks on our mat.

After Cologne, we are off to Mannheim for three days of revelry celebrating Wolfie’s 50th birthday. Interspersed with the beer drinking, there will be a couple of brewery visits.

Enjoying a few Eichbaums with Ute and Wolfgang in Mannheim
Enjoying a few Eichbaums with Ute and Wolfgang in Mannheim

The culmination of our trip is a punk show headlined by The Dreadnoughts, an Irish punk band from Vancouver, BC. A good time is sure to be had by all.

We hope to add a dozen new breweries to the list, which will put us within sight of reaching 500 by the end of the year.