This is the second in a series of blog posts about our recent epic trip to Germany and the Czech Republic in search of food, castles, and of course beer. My travel companions included my wife Sarajo (Sj for short), as well as Jim and Lori Stroner. Jim is a seasoned beer geek (and part owner of Tin Whisker’s Brewing in St. Paul) as well as a great photographer. He did most of the organizational work for the trip, so he gets extra kudos! Our hero’s journey continues now with day 2…
Adelsdorf: Carp Capitol of Franconia?
Dawn arrived way too early for our jetlagged bodies and minds on this sunny Saturday in the German countryside. Adelsdorf is just one of many small towns dotting the Fanconian region of Germany, surrounded by pastoral cropland (are we in Wisconsin?) and the odd carp pond. Yeah, they eat carp here as a delicacy. In fact there is a large carp and trout processing plant right in town that strangely did not reek up the area! There’s even a small carp museum on the edge of town that was never open when we were around (but I got pictures!).
Our hotel Zum Lowenbrau served the typical European breakfast of cold meats, cheeses, soft-boiled eggs, breads and pastries. However, the mistress of the house also does a fair amount of jam and jelly making so these were far more interesting and flavorful than anywhere else we stayed this trip. She even made a tasty jelly out of their dark beer! After stuffing our faces with delicacies and chugging endless cappuccinos, we finally started to feel more human again. I’ll be talking more about the hotel and brewery in future posts.
Forchheim: City of Beer
After the fortifying breakfast we headed out by car for the nearby city of Forchheim. We discoved quickly that our moderate sized SUV was quite the monstrosity here on the tiny country roads. Think about most two-lane US highways with the average 55 MPH speed limit. Now compress that into one lane with no markings. Take away the shoulder. Add some wooden posts every few yards that sometimes lean into the road. Maybe add some metal guard rails here and there. Make it 100 KPH (about 60 MPH). Now take that road and twist it into a weavy mess of tight turns, switchbacks and run parts of it through dense forest. I was glad I hadn’t been able to see the road well last night! Jim did an admirable job not killing us on the way to Forchheim and Sj stepped in as navigator for the rest of the trip. Lori and I sat in the back, holding the “Oh Shit Bar” and praying for it to end soon.
We arrived without mishap near the city square. The clouds were perfect and the setting beautiful. The place was filled with classic German half timber construction buildings, colorful flower boxes, and cobblestoned streets. A beautiful fountain graced the edge of the square and provided plenty of fodder for two photographers! Now I really felt like I was in Germany! Almost like it had been planned, (it was) there were two breweries right across the square, just waiting for us to explore.
The first that we visited was Brauerei Hebendanz, a venerable brewery first opened in 1579. Yup, these guys have been around a while. A server pointed out a table to us right out front on the street. There were two beers to choose from: light and dark. OK, we’ll have one of each and share! Both beers were pleasant, classic tasting lagers, served in the everpresent seidla (or opaque mug/stein). Sipping our German lagers on the street, watching clouds scudding in across the sky with a cool breeze, I think we all gave a relaxed sigh of contentment.
Walking all of two storefronts down the street we came upon another brewery: Brauerei Neder. We sat ourselves outside this time as we didn’t see any servers. After a bit of time, and seeing someone at another table go inside for refills of beer, Jim and I headed inside. The interior was filled with locals, mostly older and nearly all male, who looked to be having a fine old time on a Saturday morning. I didn’t quite hear the record scratch, but we certainly got a few curious looks. I blame Jim. We managed to order some beers via some hand gestures and guesses. Back outside we shared our beers and found them to ger some of the best so far. The first was the Kellerbier: basically the unfiltered light colored lager that pretty much every brewery in the area has on draft. This may be part of why these are served in opaque mugs–so people don’t see the haze of yeast. Hazy IPA’s have nothing on these guys! The city had just recently celebrated Annafest (with many thousands of people) so this brewery had a leftover Festbier that seemed to be a wheat beer. Our favorite of the three was the dark Schwarzbier, being malty, roasty and clean.
Next we drove a short distance to the Kellerwald. Forchheim is known for having the largest concentration of Bierkellers in one place, almost all of them up on one hill. It was this that led us to the town as our first foray.
Cultural Observation: Bierkeller vs Biergarten.
Before we move on, I felt I should give a bit of background on some German beer customs and nomenclature. Most of these were discovered or figured out on the fly during our trip. A Biergarten is basically a patio where beer is served. Nearly all of these have food as well–ranging from snacks to full filling German meals of sausage and schnitzels. Most are quite large and provide more seating than inside the breweries and restaurants they are a part of. We found these at most of the breweries we visited in the Franconia region, but in Forchheim, most of the action was actually at the Bierkellers. A bierkeller is basically a big outdoor patio centered around the old keller (cellar) in the hillside where the breweries used to do their cool temperature lagering and beer storage. Most of these are not used anymore, but the history and tradition remain. Think of a hobbit hole entrance in the side of a hill, surrounded by a slapdash wooden serving structure and a bunch of outdoor seating. We noted after a few stops that they generally had only one active server for very large amounts of patrons. See Day 1’s Observation on service…
Moving on. We parked down the hill after a bit of difficulty navigating pedestrian-only versus beware-of-pedestrian signs. We walked up a forest trail, to find ourselves on a paved road that was edged with large bierkellers. There are a total of 24 of these along the trail up the hill. We had left ourselves today and the following day to explore these, knowing that there was no way we could even visit them all in this time. But we would try! Oh yes!
What we quickly discovered was that only 7-8 of these kellers was actually open for business. Apparently after Annafest, many of the kellars close down without notice. The places that were open, were sparsely attended. The positive to this is that we were able to get service fairly (for the area anyway) easily, and didn’t have to fight raucous drunken crowds. The negative was that many of the places we wanted to visit were closed! Of the places open, 3 of them all served the same beer from the same brewery: Josef Grief. The radler was pretty good and refreshing after climbing that hill.
Some of the kellers buy beer from a brewery and serve it, others are owned by the brewery–hence three places all serving the same beer. Two of the open kellers were serving beer from the breweries we had just visited in town. Overall, I was reminded of the semi-permanent facades and festival nature of the Renaissance Festival back home. Just throw in a turkey leg and a few people with affected accents and I would have felt right at home!
Our favorite experience on the hill was lunch at the St. Georgenbrau keller. The brewery is in Buttenheim, not too far from where we were. We had one of the best servers of our German trip here, a friendly young man who seemed happy to practice his English with us. We pretty much all had huge plates of Jaegerschnitzel: a flat breaded pork cutlet topped with a mushroom gravy. This was the best schnitzel of the trip and had tasty chantrelle mushrooms in the gravy. This was way too much food for lunch but we were doing our best to put it away! The beers here were fantastic as well and may very well have been my favorite helles lager of the trip. Since our server was one of the few Enlish speakers we had discovered so far we asked him which of the kellers/breweries were his favorite. Somewhat abashedly he admitted that he was more of a wine drinker! Oh well, we would have to explore more ourselves!
Finding ourselves with less beer intake than expected, we opted to go searching for a photo op that Jim had discovered on line. With some fancy searching we discovered the town that this image had been taken in and decided to make a trek to the tiny little town of Tuchersfeld. We finally found it and wandered around with our cameras for a while looking for the best possible vantage point. A fun little stop, but pretty much every restaurant and bar in town was closed. Apparently all of Franconia is on holiday?
On the outskirts of Tuchersfeld we discovered a sad discarded Maypole with a small noose dangling from it. This is some serious Wicker Man stuff right here!
By the time we arrived back at our hotel, the time had flown and it was fairly late. The restaurant was still open but they were only serving cold snacks. Sharing some large meat and cheese plates amongst us we were at least happy that Lori’s granola bars were not our only option for dinner! We toasted some more Zum Lowenbrau beers and felt that our day had still been a success. We finished up our repast with a sweet maple syrup-like bierlikor that was distilled at the brewery.
Breweries visited: 3
Bierkellers visited: 2
Cities visited: 5
Mileage walked today: About 5.5 miles
Coming up: More Forchheim, Squirrels, Wiener Art!