Bamberg – can there be a better place in the world to drink beer?
Bamberg is a beautiful, Baroque, island city, on the banks of the River Regnitz, and the Main-Donau canal is in Upper Franconia, Bavaria. It is built on medieval foundations and is home to 70,000 people and 11 breweries.
The city is a base for many United States Army personnel and their families – and they no doubt have helped take the fame of this beer paradise around the world.
Many of Bamberg’s beers have a smoky secret. To malt a cereal the grain has to begin to germinate, converting complicated sugars into simpler ones, which then can be broken down even further in the mash tun. But the process has to be stopped before it goes too far and the grain’s goodness is lost to the brewer.
Heat is normally used to arrest germination, but in Franconia, maltsters developed a smoky technique of stopping the grain’s growth.
The germinating grain is heated over beech wood fires, which imparts marvellous wood fire, peaty textures to the finished beers.
Schlenkerla (Dominikanerstrasse 6 www.smokebeer.com ) is a vibrant, friendly bar and restaurant and Bamberg’s best known. The warmth of its world famous rauchbier, with its smoked whisky and cheese overtones is as warm as the welcome. Tables are often shared and people soon embrace in the comfort of conversation and the language of laughter. Beer is the social lubricant and the perfect accompaniment to the robust Bavarian dishes – onions stuffed with beery meatballs is a particular favourite.
Two doors down is the Ambräusianum (Dominikanerstr. 10 www.ambraeusianum.de ). Here the brewing vessels can been seen, which makes it seem more like a modern brew pub than one of Bamberg’s traditional establishments, well it is a relative newcomer being opened in 2004. Weekend breakfasts are a special treat – a glass of wheat beer with three locally made Bavarian veal sausages and a pretzel.
Beer has been brewed at Klosterbrau (Oberre Muhlbruck 3) since 1533. Down a cobbled street, time seems to slip away in this fairy tale of a brewery tap. The range includes a schwarzbier, braunbier, weizen, pils and a bock.
The river and its pretty walks is never faraway in Bamberg and the stroll to the Spezial passes the spectacular medieval stone and timbered Old Town Hall, which seems precariously balanced on an ancient bridge. Max Platz which is off Gruner Market is a square of elegant and genteel proportions.
The Brauerei Spezial’s–(Obere Königstrasse 10 – is a locals bar decorated with laughter and conversations. Its Spezial Rrauchbeer has subtle, soft toffee flavours and even a hint of burnt straw. Spezial uses smoked malt in at least four other of its beers. By the bar is a serving hatch, where locals come to fill containers with beer, for drinking at home.
Directly opposite is the Brauerei Fässla (Obere Königsstraße 19-21 www.faessla.de ). Brewing started here in 1649 and the pub has a comfortable wood panelled country style room. The brewery’s logo, a dwarf rolling a barrel of beer, decorates the glasses and dark furniture. Its Lagerbier is easy drinking and melds malty flavours with a fresh, soft bitterness. It is also home to a small, hotel.
The exterior of the Weinstube Pizzini (Ober Sandstrasse 17) is somewhat unprepossessing, and do not be deterred by its name, it is neither a wine bar nor a pizza restaurant. Inside this small, brown decorated and time worn bar, there is warm hearted welcome and the opportunity to try Fassla and Spezial beers as well as a Dunkel from Andechser.
Bamberg’s other breweries
Greifenklau (Laurenziplatz 20; Kaiserdom (Breitackerstrase 9 www.Kaiserdom.de; Kneesmann (Wunderburg 5 ); Mahr’s Brau (Wunderburgh 10; Robesbierre (Oberer Stephansberg 49).
The Bamberg Tourist office (Geyserwörthstr. 3, www.bamberg.info ) has an excellent guide to all city’s breweries.