This is the seventh 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 7…
Have Fun Storming the Castle!
On our last morning in Bamberg we tried to find a good vantage point to take pictures of Altenburg Castle outside of the city. This resulted in Jim and I tromping through dusty farm fields, through raspberry brambles, and over ditches.
We eventually found our way up the hill and found a parking spot about half-way up. We took a steep path through the forest and up to the rear of the castle walls. We spent some time at the castle, hiking to the top of the vertigo-inducing tower and around the spacious grounds. Did I mention I’m afraid of heights? I did OK.
Escape From Bamberg
Having exhausted the photo ops at the castle we then tried to get out of Bamberg and to our next destination. This was easier said than done. Our GPS took us back into the city center, where Jim daringly drove our SUV through twisty cobbled streets not much wider than a VW bug. Up hills, down hills, impeded by construction and closed roads, we spun around in ever widening circles for what seemed like hours. All the while, my white fingers were clutching desperately at the “Oh-Crap-Handle” of the back seat, plastic and knuckles creaking with the strain. Random one-way roads popped up on our route with the GPS telling us to go the wrong way. Pedestrians threw themselves in front of us without regard for their own impending doom. Busses forced us nearly off the road. “Wait, that can’t be a road, that has to be a driveway!” And then, “Wait that is a driveway! Lori and Eric get out and help direct as we back this beast up!” We felt the disgust radiating from scowling German faces as we drove by in our big SUV…again and again. If Jim had an eye patch he would have made a great Snake Plissken.
We got out. Eventually. Next up was a little drive through the German countryside. I’m pretty sure the GPS was set to “Goat Paths and Deer Trails” because we ended up on some of the most remote and tiny “roads” that I’ve ever seen. At one point, on a blind curve up a forested hill, we ended up nearly grill to grill with a big panel truck and had to throw the car in reverse to a slightly wider spot in the “road” to let it get around us. Let me tell you, it was Brown Trousers Time for everyone involved! Despite our GPS trying to strand/kill us we eventually found our way to the sleepy little town of Merkendorf.
We had taken a roundabout way (no doubt!) to get to Brauerei Hummel, and wonder of wonders the place was open! Being out in the country, the grounds of the brewery were pretty extensive. We found plenty of space to park our Ford Land Destroyer in back by the brewery equipment and trucks. The biergarten was large and fairly full for noon on a Thursday. Our server was very nice, had limited English, and was serving at least 45-50 people all on her own. So service was slow but pleasant-natured. I’ll take that over cranky any day! This brewery had the most beers on tap of any we found on our entire trip and the quality was very good. Favorites included our only Marzen/Octoberfest beer of the trip, a very nice smoky Rauchbier, and a crackery tasting ungespundetes. Even splitting beers among the three of us drinkers we still weren’t able to try them all. Knowing that a meal here would probably take forever, we opted to hold off for the next stop. Never do this. Take the food where you can!
We walked just a few blocks away to Brauerei Wagner, but they were randomly closed like so many other breweries on this trip so far. No beer or food for you! So we decided to see if we could find the Hummel Keller which was supposed to be not far from here…maybe we could get food and try some more of their beers.
After our GPS ran us around in circles, into people’s yards, up bike paths, and into the fields, we eventually found the Keller. It was closed down and deserted of course. But, hey we wandered a cute little town so it wasn’t a total waste!
Giving up, we drove to the nearby town of Memmelsdorf to our Hotel and Brauerei Drie Kronen (Three Crowns). We were staying at the hotel this evening, and Jim had set us up a special tour and beer pairing dinner here so we had our plans for the rest of the day! The brewery is owned by the Straub family and has actually downsized beer production over time to make more room for the hotel and restaurant side of things. We ate a quick snack here and unloaded our baggage.
We had some time before our tour and dinner, so Jim, Sj and I opted to walk to the nearby town of Drosendorf to to Brauerei Goller. The walk/death-march was mostly along a highway and was in direct hot sun with temps topping out around 89 degrees F. When we arrived we were a bit worried that the place was closed and that all our effort had been in vain. However, we found that all the action was in a somewhat hidden open air courtyard/garten further inside the brewery. By the time we arrived at the brewery we were more than happy to have some shade and cool beer. The rauchbier was OK, but the best of the place was the dunkles (dark) lager. And hey, they were actually open!
After this refrain it was time to walk back. Groaning, we opted to try a half hour “short cut” through some happily shaded forest trails, driveways, and farmer’s fields. At least it was better looking than watching the heat shimmer over a highway!
Once we arrived back at the hotel it was time for our tour with Hans, the patriarch of the Straub family and longtime brewmaster. Hans has been brewing since the 1960’s and is full of knowledge about brewing as well as local trends and history. We were expecting a quick tour since the brewery isn’t huge, but we ended up spending at least an hour with Hans. We got to taste actively fermenting beers from the fermenters, ogle the copper coolship, and finally cool off in the cooler. This might have been the first air conditioning we found in Germany! We found that Hans had recently “retired” and his daughter Isobel had become the new brewmaster, but it seems he likes to keep his toes in the water a bit. I loved that there is a crib in the brewery for the grandkids to play in while Hans or his daughter were at work brewing. A fine family tradition! As a long-time homebrewer and beer geek, I don’t tend to learn a lot new on brewery tours anymore, but Hans really had an interesting take and actually taught me few things! And how many people can say they’ve had a tour by a real German Brewmaster?
After our tour we had a fine three course beer pairing dinner at the restaurant, with Hans coming over to give us information about the food and beers. Our first course was locally made thin sliced ham, salad, and thick bread made from their rauchbier. This was paired with the tasty and smoky house rauchbier of course! The second course was tender pork cutlets doused in salty, smoky, sweet gravy made with dried plums, served with deep fried crispy croquets. Those bacon-wrapped green beans topped with crushed malt may have been the only green vegetables we had on this trip. This was paired with the refreshing light colored lager (kellerbier). And the final course was fried apple slices in a wheat beer cream sauce topped with beer ice cream, and paired with the wheat beer. Between my lactose intolerance and migraines from wheat beers, I feel this dish was made specifically to kill me.
The meal was fantastic, but we were tired out and feeling stuffed to the gills so it was time to sleep it off! Overall, a busy day with an amazing finish. I would highly recommend the hotel and brewery to others!
Fairly early on in the trip we decided to document Jim’s amazing hop bine tattoo along with our beers. I took nearly all of the these photos so he could be in shots. Seriously, check that bad boy out! How has this tattoo not made it into the best brewery industry tattoo section of The Growler yet? Just thought I’d mention this so my readers will know why Jim’s forearm is in most of the beer shots!
Breweries visited: 17
Bierkellers visited: 7
Cities visited: 14
Mileage walked today: 5.5