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Archive for the ‘Bavaria’ Category

Bamberg – can there be a better place in the world to drink beer?

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Bamberg's Old Town Hall, which seems precariously balanced on an ancient bridge.

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.

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Written by timhampson

September 21, 2010 at 5:22 pm

Sometimes they just ask the wrong question.

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So when was the first beer brewed?

“So who knows when the first beer was brewed?”

I’m not sure if our guide Eva Kočková at the Pilsner Brewery museum knew who she was asking. I was in the company of three of the country‘s best beer writers – Peter Brown, Mark Dredge and Adrian Tierney Jones. Beer writers are a bit like economists – get three together and you will have at least four different opinions.

The craft of brewing is as old as civilization. Between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago, some people discontinued their nomadic hunting and gathering and settled down to farm. Grain was the first domesticated crop that started that farming process.

Through hieroglyphics, cuneiform characters and written accounts, some historians have traced the roots of brewing back to ancient African, Egyptian and Sumerian tribes. Here, the oldest proven records of brewing are about 6,000 years old and refer to the Sumerians or Mesopotamia as Eva told us.

However there is some evidence from  China which shows brewing took place more than 8,000 years ago. And in South America there is evidence of some early civilisations, pre-Columbus, making a fermented drink made from corn. In truth we will never know, but it seems fair to assume that brewing like the use of fire could have developed almost simultaneously in different parts of the world.

Na Parkane, a good place to enjoy a beer and some dumplings

The excellent Pilsen Brewery Museum is housed in an old 15th century maltings, one of the many which were once found in this brewing town. It includes a gothic malt house, a mock-up of the laboratory used by the man credited with developing Pilsner style beers Josef Groll and on the remains of the city walls outside, which kept enemies at bay for centuries, there are small plots of barley and hops.

It really is a pleasant place to wile away an hour or so.

On special days actors create scenes from Pilsens beery history, including the improbable tale of the ale connor – a myth which too can be found in many British accounts of the history of beer. According to legend, the quality of beer was judged by the stickiness of beer and whether the ale connor’s leather breeches stuck to a beer soaked bench. The more the trousers stuck, the better the beer. Well it is a good story.

Hard hats are a necessity for the undergound tour

Underneath, a separate tour, for which hard hats are obligatory winds through a 800m labyrinth of narrow tunnels, linking streets and houses. Hewn from the soft sandstone the first tunnels date from 1290.Here can be seen some of the 360 original wells from which brewers drew water to make beer. The temperature is 7’C perfect for lagering. Here too, the citizens sought refuge when the town was under siege.

Josef Groll's laboratory is recreated in the museum

And to end the tour, what could be better than to visit the adjacent Na Parkene pub for a glass of dark, unfiltered beer, and of course some dumplings. Potato or bread?

http://www.plzenskepodzemi.cz/en/

Places I’d like to be – Hotel Purkmistr, Pilsen for the third Sun beer festival

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Purkmistr - one of the Czech Republic's new wave of breweries

On the outskirts of Pilsen in the Czech Republic is the Hotel Purkmistr, where a brewery opened in 2007. On a visit last weekend it was a marvel to try their beers. The range includes an unfiltered pale lager, a cherry beer and an interesting Cappuccino flavoured beer.

The hotel's bar is large, spacious and dominated by two copper kettles,

The restaurant food is particularly good with many Czech speciality dishes on the menu. In the English translation one is described as “breast of a brewery shepherdess”. It comprised chicken, cranberries and blue cheese. Now using the word “breast” is as guaranteed to make an Englishman laugh as the word “bottom”. “No that is no mistranslation” said our host – Jan Mlcak from, Czech Tourism and revealing a Rabelaisian streak he said, “In the Czech menu we use the word “tits”. And the dish will look like its description.” So guess where the cranberries will go?

However, I would love to be back there on 18 September as it is to host what Czech beer expert Evan Rail http://www.facebook.com/evanrail, tells me is the best beer festival in the Czech Republic.

There is plenty of space in the garden

More than 140 beers, many from the new wave of Czech brewing will be there as will the innovative Scottish brewer Brew Dog. But interestingly, perhaps the sleeping giant of German brewing could be waking up, as several brewers from the Bamberg area will be making the trip across the border.

For years most of Germany’s brewing industry has been an enigma – for a country with more than 1,000 breweries it is deeply conservative. Yes there are some marvellous regional specialities – Raunchier, alt, the bitter sweet brews from Berlin. But while brewers in America, Italy, Denmark, the UK and now the Czech Republic (just to name some of the countries involved) have embarked on a journey to push beer to new heights. German breweries have stuck with what they know best. Undoubtedly good, but sometimes one yearns for something more – something which assails and caresses the taste buds. Evan tells me that increasingly brewers from Czech Republic and Germany are beginning to swap ideas and develop new brews.

Petr Mic, in front of the brewery's four open fermenters, he says "Euro-Beer tastes all the same"- he wants to do something different.

Sadly I cannot make the 18 September, but next year’s event takes place on 17 September. I might just write it in my diary now.

Hotel Purkmistr, Selská náves 21/2,326 00 Plzeň – Černice

http://www.purkmistr.cz/

Written by timhampson

September 3, 2010 at 11:03 am

Weltenberg Kloster – is this the most beautiful location for a brewery in the world?

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Many come to enjoy the Kloster's garden

I first visited this brewery when researching for The Beer Book, published by Dorling Kindersley.

For people from the UK, Weltenberg is not immediately on the beer tourist trail. However for people in Bavaria it is a popular and much loved destination.

Can there be a more dramatic or magnificent location for a brewery in the world? Located on a bend in the Danube, the beautifully decorated baroque Benedictine abbey is literally hewn from the 150 million year old Jurassic limestone rock, which forms high towering cliffs on either side of the river, running from its source in Germany’s Black Forest on its way to the Black Sea.

In a courtyard, where giant chestnut trees grow, the church of the Weltenburger Monastery and Kloster brewery stand side by side.

The brewery stands close to the monastery

Weltenberg was founded in the 7th century by two monks, Eustasic and Agilus followers of St Columban – one of the patron saints of brewing. Manuscripts in the monastery’s library show that beer has been brewed here for over 1,000 years, with production only being halted from 1803-1846.

But though the site is old and redolent with tradition, there is nothing old about the brewery, which is a modern, automated, hi-tech brewery able to brew both bottom and top fermenting beers using water drawn from the brewery’s own well.

The Kloster’s brewmaster is Anton Miller, at 25 years of age he is looking forward to a long career at the brewery. His predecessor worked at the brewery for 49 years.

Inside the brewery everything is scrubbed, polished and scrupulously clean and even the stainless steel mash and lauter tuns which were installed in 1982 look as shiny as the day they were commissioned.

“We might be the oldest brewery in the world, but we use the newest techniques,” said Anton. “Quality beer needs the equipment and ingredients,” he said.

The commitment to quality certainly seems to be paying off as the Weltenburger Kloster has added to its growing list of awards after Barock Dunkel took the Gold Medal in the dark lagers category at the World Beer Cup 2008 in San Diego, USA.

Anton says that the Dunkel, which has been brewed for more than 150 years, is the beer the monks usually choose to drink. However, while fasting for 40 days and 40 nights during Lent they prefer the stronger Asam Bock. “It is their liquid bread,” he said.

Anton prides himself on the brewery’s close links with local Bavarian farmers – every June he visits the barley fields to choose the grain which will be malted in Bamberg. The sweet and spicy Perle Hallertau hops, which are used in pellet form, come from three farms near Munich.

The brewery produces seven beers – Weissbier Hell, Urtyp Hell, Barock Hell, and Pils, are top fermented at 8C for seven days; and Weissbier Dunkel, Barock Dunkel, and Asam Bock, are bottom fermented at 22C for four days.

Deep beneath the ground, under 40m of limestone rock, can be found the brewery’s lager store.  Here the Dunkel is stored at zero centigrade and sometimes lower for at least three months. A process that slowly releases the Barock Dunkel’s aromatic, malty flavours and well-balanced richness.

Visitors to the brewery can enjoy this beer, which is pumped directly into its own bar.

The brewery’s beer garden is open throughout the year and is renowned not just for its beer, but also its extensive menu of Bavarian dishes including Klosterwurst, a spicy home made sausage, suckling pig and boiled beef.

The brewery is open to visitors at weekends. Nearby, there are many fine walks and cycle tracks and the best way to arrive at the brewery is said to be by river from nearby Kelheim.

Is this the most beautiful location for a brewery in the world?

Weltenburger Kloster

Asamstrase 32, 93309 Kelheim, Germany

www.weltenburger.de

Written by timhampson

September 1, 2010 at 10:15 am