This is the fifth 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 5…
Being here partially for photography Jim and I were up at 6:30 to capture the city before it filled with throngs of tourists. At this ungodly hour the previously packed bridges and streets were empty but for the odd street sweeper and delivery vehicle. An occasional biker would whiz by on their way to work. It was worth it get up early!
After the streets started to crowd up and the light was too strong, we headed back to meet up with the ladies for breakfast at the Hotel Alt-Ringlien. Today would be another busy day, so we piled on the sliced meats and pastries for extra energy!
We then wandered the streets a bit before heading on…
Our first mission of the day was to take a 30 minute (plus several photo stops along the way) walk to Weyermann Malting. The malting company was founded in 1879 and has been through several expansions over the years. Initially at the edges of town, it now sits right in the middle of Bamberg and provides malt to brewers all over the world. I’ve used Weyermann malts for years in my homebrewing and was excited to get to see where the magic happens! We managed to have one of Jim’s friends Craig join us for the tour since he happened to be in town at the same time.
We were lucky enough to get a private tour of the facility though Jim’s connections with Tin Whisker’s Brewery and through my good friend Chris German. Let me just tell you that we were treated like brewing royalty. Our tour guide Gregor Einar Fransson was one of the kindest and most engaging guys I’ve had the fortune to spend a day with. We had a fantastic tour of the grounds, malting buildings and more. The place is a wonder to behold, demonstrating its venerable age, but still showing functional industrial beauty. The Weyermann colors are deep red and yellow and this scheme permeates the place, right down to the tile and grout in the bathrooms! They also have a tiny copper brew system on the grounds for testing out new malts and recipes and to supply their tasting room.
To cap the tour off, we were treated to some of their own beers in the spacious and modern tasting room. We tasted through some traditional German styles like light and dark lagers and rauchbiers, along with a couple of non-traditional (for Germans anyway) styles like a barleywine and a orange-flavored stout. We were all able to fill out postcards for friends and family and Weyermann sent them out for us as well–and ours even beat us home!
Unlike most other German breweries, Weyermann seems to understand the power of merchandising–having a nice store for branded merchandise, as well as craft beer from all over the world. We may have all dropped some serious cash on swag here! They also had their own distilled spirits–of which we brought home some really interesting gin. This was a high point of our trip to Germany and to Bamberg for sure.
What should we all do after a trip to a malting facility and brewery where we tasted grains and smelled roasting barley all morning? Why, a trip to another nearby brewery of course! Next stop was to Brauerei Keesmann. We were seated outside in the biergarten and were quickly ready for some beers and food. The pilsner here was quite good, but the helles was even better. Our server at this brewery was perhaps one of the worst (see my explanation of “interesting” service in my first post here) we had on this trip. She was obviously jaded and maybe didn’t like Americans. Despite us actually having a German speaker with us this time, she was uninterested in helping us, nor in describing anything. When she forgot to bring out Lori’s soda, we politely asked her about it. She scowled at us and stormed off. Later, she returned, slammed the glass down on the table, slopping sticky orange soda around, and left without a word. Yeah, she didn’t get a big tip. By the end of our meal, rain had started up and we huddled a bit under our umbrella while we finished our beers. Other than cranky waitress, the beer and food were worth the stop.
Next brewery? Mahrs Brau, not too far from our current location! The rain was letting up at this time, leaving us feeling cool for once (the temps had been high and continued to run high 80’s to low 90’s the rest of our trip). We ended up on the slightly wet Mahrs Brau biergarten and actually had a good server to make up for last experience. A crow taunted us loudly from a nearby tree as we tried out a very nice pilsner and a ungespundet (an unfiltered lager or kellerbier) that was malty, complex and a bit bready. Another good brewery to mark off our list!
We walked a lot today. Between walking to Weyermann, multiple breweries, churches, and other explorations we walked at least 9 miles according to Sj’s phone, but probably even more that that. I guess you have to burn off calories to make room for more beer right?
Finally back to our hotel, we decided to stop into another brewery just a block down that had been closed the previous day. This was the difficult to pronounce (and spell) Brauerei Ambrausainum. This is one of the newer breweries we visited, only opening up in 2004, but still in an old historic building. We noted piles of Weyermann bags next to the small (and actually visible) brew system within the space, and took pictures of ourselves with them. We had a tall male waiter who’s English was very good, and who kept giving Lori good-natured ribbing about not drinking beer with the rest of us. The lager was good and the dark wheat beer was an unusual style compared to what we had tried so far. Overall the beers were decent but not quite up the quality we had tried so far this long and grueling day. They did have an amazing apple strudel though and would go back for that any day!
At this time we were getting hungry and ready for dinner. Already growing tired of the traditional German meals of meat with a side order of meat, Sj suggested The Pelican which was supposed to have an Asian flair. We walked a ways to this restaurant and found that they were not serving food inside the restaurant (just beer) but the large biergarten was open. There were a few groups of people waiting in benches near the entrance. We waited around for quite some time, never seeing a server or host to ask about wait-lists or such. Another couple came in behind us and discovered the same thing. Jim did finally accost a bus boy but he spoke no English and we didn’t get very far. Finally, we despaired and went walking around the city some more, hoping to let the dinner rush die down. About 45 minutes later we returned to find that other couple still waiting outside the patio. Nope.
By this time we were getting hangry (hungry/angry) and decided to stick with the known quantity and walked back to Brauerei Schlenkerla for another massive Bamberg onion and more smoked beer. We ill-advisedly finished our tasty meal with some of the strong Schlenkerla distilled spirits.
Waddling out of the brewery, we found the street outside to be packed to the gills with people. The brewery has a separate station for ordering outdoor beers and they were doing gangbusters business today! There had to be 50-100 people smoking, drinking, and talking loudly out there! We headed to bed at the Hotel Alt-Ringlein just a few doors down and drifted off to sleep to the clank of glasses and the dull roar of the impromptu street party going on below us. I’ve had worse days!
Cultural Observation: Brewery Swag
I mentioned earlier in the post about Weyermann having good swag, but thought I’d give that a little more time in my write-up. Beer guys like Jim and I really like brewery merchandise. I have a tap handle collection on my basement walls, as well as many tin tackers and signs. Jim collects growlers from all over Minnesota with the goal of having one from each. We both have more glasses and mugs than anyone should have–to the point where our cabinets are literally hard to shut due to overstuffing! I’m not sure I own a t-shirt or hat that doesn’t have a brewery logo on it. American breweries are getting better about offering more variety of such swag, getting income from sales as well as free advertising out of the deal. Germany and the Czech republic haven’t quite figured this out yet. Occasionally a brewery would have a mug or glass for sale, and only two in our whole trip sold shirts. Most breweries would sell growlers or bottles of beer, but not much else. Schlenkerla had the best swag options (other than Weyermann) but most of their sales were bulk packs and minikegs of beer. Jim and I searched long and hard for the tin tackers we saw all over on walls all over, but the only place we found them for sale was at Pilsner Urquell (and even they had limited options). We found one beat up sign in an antique store in the Czech Republic, but the crotchety old proprietor was so unfriendly to us that we didn’t want to buy it from her.
I think with these breweries mostly being so old and steeped in tradition, they’ve never really dealt with having brewery “fans”. Why change or spend money on merchandising when you can just do what you’ve been doing for the last 200 years? However, the big distribution breweries and conglomerates are spending billions on marketing, taking over much of the tap space and cutting into traditional drinking patterns. Here’s a message to those amazing old traditional breweries: sell us some swag! Beer tourism is a real thing and I’ll gladly buy your signs, tap handles, and shirts! There ends my rant. Thank you for listening.
Breweries visited: 13
Bierkellers visited: 5
Cities visited: 11
Mileage walked today: 9.3