This is the fourth 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 4…
Day 4 (Montag) started with another great breakfast at our Hotel Zum Lowenbrau in Adelsdorf. It was with some sadness that we left our comfortable hotel and brewery and headed out into the unknown German countryside in search of more breweries.
We stopped in two different small towns looking to check out some highly thought-of breweries. We would cruise the town looking for that rare and hard to find spot big enough to park our moderately sized (by American standards) SUV, then usually ended up walking several “blocks” to find yet another closed brewery. Some were simply not open despite claims to the opposite on social media and Websites, others would sport a handwritten note on the door to that effect.
Cultural Observation: Hours of Operation
Regular hours of operation and updated social media seem to be as rare as unicorns in rural Germany. We found so many closed breweries, bierkellers, and restaurants on this trip that it became a running joke. Jim did a lot of looking into the hours of places prior to our trip, just to avoid such unrewarding trips to yet another town. We did get to meet some lackadaisical brewery cats… I’m guessing some of these breweries just have a standing “our regulars know we close for two weeks in August” business model and don’t really even think about people coming all the way out to visit from America. If this happened in back home and a brewery or taproom wasn’t open during posted hours, we as consumers might get upset. This has only happened to me once (612 I’m looking at you) in Minnesota, so having this happen with about every 3rd place we tried out was disheartening. Luckily Jim is an overplanner and had back-up plans for his back-up plans!
Finally we arrived at the next leg of our journey: Bamberg! This is an old city with tiny and twisted cobblestone streets, hills, bridges, and lots of pedestrian foot traffic. Roaring into town with our SUV made me feel like we were in a 1970’s San Francisco heist movie on the run from the coppers. After changing my shorts (again) and unloading our baggage at the Hotel Alt-Ringlein we were ready to explore those streets on foot! Our hotel was located right in the center of the old town and one building down from the Brauerei Schlenkerla. Knowing we would be finishing the day there, we headed farther afield.
We wandered the beautiful city taking a ton of pictures along the way. Bamberg is an interesting mix of the very old and of the modern. It was more crowded than we had been used to so far on our trip, with by far the largest amount of tourists. We passed several tour groups in different languages near our hotel but these dropped off as we left the old town center.
Our first stop was for lunch at Brauerei Spezial, known for their smoked lagers. This brewery smokes their own malt over beechwood to add a smoky flavor to the beers and is much sought-after by beer geeks like me. We had some great hearty food here while sipping on smoky rauchbiers and found the beers to be some of our favorite on the trip. We finished our lunch with a shot of sweet bierlikor (um beer liquor in English) that was warm and topped with creamy foam. Lori tells me there is an off-color name for such a concoction. Well worth the stop.
Next up was literally right across the street to Brauerei Fassla. Well this was convenient. And these breweries were actually open! Fassla had some of the most fun branding of the breweries we visited this trip (along with the squirrels from Brauerei Eichorn) with their little gnomes adorning everything. However, they failed by not having all sorts of swag for us to buy! It had started to rain so we sat inside, enjoying the old woods, the clink of glassware and dishes, and watched the rain fall outside the open windows. We had a very good crisp and clean pilsner, a slightly darker yellow lager, and a malty and dark Zwergla that was quite pleasant. Overall a great place to visit.
Around this time Lori was about done with breweries for the day (considering she doesn’t really drink, I think she stuck it out well) and we dropped her off at the hotel for a nap. Sj, suffering from a bad case of FOMO, decided to keep up with Jim and I!
Our next brewery stop was Brauerei Klosterbrau, not far from the hotel and located along the river. The biergarten (right on the river) wasn’t open when we arrived so we sat outside the brewery along the street, sheltered from the fading rain by large umbrellas. This brewery had a very good server and comfortable benches with footrests to take a load off. As we sipped our their very good dark Schwartzbier we watched people trying not to kill themselves riding bikes down the steep, wet, cobblestoned roadway. Better than TV for sure!
After a bit more wandering, feet burning from all the walking on cobbles, we were ready for…
We picked up Lori and headed the long distance (about 15 feet) to Schlenkerla for dinner. And beer. Always more beer. My wonderful nurse back home had given me gift certificates for Christmas, so our first night’s dinner was free as well! Thanks Shannon! We ate outside in the biergarten out back, finding one of our first English menus so far on the trip. Our server was very pleasant and spoke excellent English as well. We ended up seeing her every day we were in Bamberg. It was only later that we learned Schlenkerla has a reputation for having some of the grumpiest wait staff around! We all shared around some big dishes of food including pork hocks and the regional Bamberg Onion. That particular dish is a sweet onion stuffed with pork, topped with bacon, served atop mashed potatoes, and smothered in rauchbier gravy. Yeah, it was a hit! I actually made my own version of this dish yesterday! While we packed ourselves with meat and potatoes we sipped the outragously smoky and malty Marzen bier.
So full. So tired. But Jim wouldn’t let us go to bed. Time for night photography! We took a trip over to the Rathaus (Old Town Hall) which straddles the river and tested out my new travel tripod. Crowds were dropping but there were still a fair amount of people on the streets.
Not quite willing to put this glorious day to bed (so to speak) we decided on one more walk. At this point it was pure night and the streets nearly empty. We walked up on the hill, footsteps echoing on the ubiquitous cobblestones. The silence after the loud city day was refreshing and almost a bit eerie. Then from up ahead we spotted our quarry, a lit open window beckoning us forward with the smooth promise of obscure 1970’s vinyl, a wistful siren’s song for the weary travelers. We entered the tiny Torchuster pub, festooned with old brewery tackers, an impressive sound system working behind the bar. The talkative owner, Thomas, greeted us warmly and helped us with our beer choices. We sipped beer and relaxed, regaled with Thomas’ stories and the deep cuts of music being played for our enjoyment. A fine way to end the long day!
Leaving the bar, back into the darkness and wet cobblestones, we were left with another vision of that bright window and the drifting tones of J.J. Cale sending us off into the night. A fine night in Bamberg.
Breweries visited: 9
Bierkellers visited: 5
Cities visited: 11
Mileage walked today: 7.5