Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Bamberg 2011, Day 2

A slightly slow start to Saturday, for some, but a walk along the Regnitz cleared heads in time for a breakfast (or brunch) beer by 11 at Klosterbräu Bamberg. Reputedly the oldest brewery in Bamberg, being established in 1533, by chance, it was right next door to our hotel. The sun had come out from behind the clouds, making the outdoor seating area a must, though a poke about inside revealed really busy rooms where there seemed to be groups booking the place solid. There certainly seemed to be a constant stream of tourist groups being led into the place, so we were happy to enjoy the relative peace outside. Klosterbräu Braun's Weisse was the first to be ordered, a fairly classic looking Weizen with loads of soft banana and pear-like undertones. Not much spiciness in the classic sense, but an easy start with a rather sumptuous creme caramel base. Their Klosterbräu Pils is quite a refresher, being tart, with a sharp, perfumey hop blast, and a long-lasting, peppery finish. I can't remember what I ate, but clearly it called for something a bit darker, so a Klosterbräu Braunbier was ordered (I think they had no Schwärzla). Roasted highlights on an otherwise fruity core, with dried fruits - think prunes. A slightly thin body followed by a metallic finish, it didn't live up to the other two.

Bamberger Dom
Loins suitably girded, it was time to get some culture in, with a visit to Michaelsberg, and the brewing museum, by way of the Bamberger Dom. If you're interested in such things, the Cathedral is an impressive Romanesque structure, built between 1002 and 1012, featuring things like the tomb of the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry II, the tomb of Pope Clement - the only pope to be buried in Germany (or outside of Italy or France for that matter) - the much photographed and apparently mysterious Bamberg Reiter, relics and all sorts of ecclesiastical goodies.

Michaelsberg could be seen on the opposite hill (I believe there's seven of them) and a slow march down and up again brought us to the grounds of the former Benedictine Monastery. The Fränkisches Brauereimuseum  is housed in one of the buildings on the south side of the perimeter, and has quite the collection of brewing and beer paraphernalia.There are guided tours, but we sauntered about at our leisure, ogling the huge, old mash tuns, casks, odd bottling contraptions and the old ice store down in the depths.

Following that, it was time for some sustenance, so we settled ourselves outside the Michaelsberg Cafe Restaurant, with Bamberg spread out below us. Food was wild boar goulash, with Spätzle and red cabbage. Absolutely delicious, served with a Mahr's Ungespundet and a Kapuziner Dunkel Hefeweizen. To be honest, my lazy ass would have been quite happy to stay there, stuffing my face (there's always room for cake in Germany), but it would have defeated the purpose of our visit. Next stop, Mahr's Bräu and Keesmann, about a 30 minute walk away (give or take).

That's one of the nice things about Bamberg. Many of the breweries seem to come in clusters, or at least pairs, so a bit of forward planning can make the most out of your time. Sadly, our planning didn't take into the account that Brauerei Keesmann was closed. This was a little disappointing, as I quite like their Herren Pils, but we had Mahr's Bräu just a stone's throw away to ease our pain.

Mahr's lives up to its address, Wunderburg 10; it really is a wonderful little place. Fronted by a small, cosy beer garden (empty when we arrived shortly before 4pm, and filled when we left about three hours later), the first sight upon entering the Wirtshaus is a long, wide corridor running the depth of the place. To the right is a traditional-looking tap room, all oak beams with wooden casks behind the bar. This was packed when we arrived. Just beyond the small bar is a bright, more modernly decorated room, that looked more suited to eating. That's where we had to go, and it was empty, but not for long, as parties with reservations filled it up. We had a really nice time here, and it embodied that feeling of Gemütlichkeit that so many other places just don't have. That corridor I mentioned even had it! People were standing there, drinking their beers, chatting, so it had way more than a simple connectivity function to the loos or the private party rooms.

A good sign that I loved Mahr's is the complete lack of notes in my notebook. I made some notes on the first beer, Mahr's Helles, which I think I hadn't had before. It was cleaner than most Helles, with a surprisingly sorbet-like hoppy/citrus thing on top of a bready, cream soda base, with a lick of butterscotch and a herbal bitterness bringing up the rear. I know we certainly had plenty of the Ungespundet, which is reason enough to visit the place.

We finished up with a couple of beers outside, to free up the table for those patrons who wanted to order the humongous plates of food, then finally toddled back towards the centre of town, and the brewery we managed to avoid on our first day, Brauerei Fässla, just across the road from Spezial.

I quite like Fässla beers, so hopes were high for the tap room. Sadly, it didn't quite meet the level we'd experienced till now (with the exception of the execrable Ambräusianum). The entry hall, much like Mahr's, is also a place to sit or stand and drink. As we entered,m there was a fairly loud, drunken crowd hogging one end of this area, so we popped into the main room. The decor reminded me more of a cafe, but it was bustling and welcoming. We managed to grab part of a table near the "bar". , where we began speculating on the generations of the people working there. It seemed that Grandma was overseeing from behind the bar, keeping a critical eye on everything, directing the bleach-blond young-fella pouring beers, or doing it herself when he disappeared. It seemed like her daughter  and grand-daughter were working there. I like this idea of generations working the brewery/pub. sitting beside the bar areas may have been unwise at this point in time, as we began discussing the glass washing procedure, and how we felt it was sub-standard, as still-soapy glasses were filled with beer. Not exactly beer-ready. Nevertheless, I apparently enjoyed the Fässla Lagerbeer. A lovely, bready backbone, slightly buttery, but at a level that works rather than disturbs, and remarkably fruity.
The "corridor", as we left, a little quieter.

As it was our last evening, there was only one more place that we really wanted to hit, and that was Café Abseits, about a 1.5km walk from Fassla, on the other side of the main station. From the little research I'd done, Abseits had popped up several times as a bar with an interesting selection of beers, not least the Weyermann's beers (sadly, we'd arrived too late on Friday to take the Weyermann's tour). I can confirm Abseits has an impressive beer menu, and not just from a German perspective. It might be unfair to say that is it's main redeeming feature, but on the night in question, the place stank. Badly. A kind of sweaty smell, and the toilets left a lot to be desired. Nevertheless, it was well filled with locals.

I'd tried a couple of the Weyermann pilot brewery beers at a festival in the past, so was glad to get the opportunity to try a couple more, especially considering their rather limited scale.

Weyermann Schlotfegerla, 5.2%, mildly roasty, sweetish smoke, but well to the back, well balanced. That's what I wrote. I assume I enjoyed it.

What I do recall is the Weyermann Barley Wine, a heavy hitter at 11.5%. With a big sherry/port aroma, it delivered masses of vanilla and plum pudding. I summed it up as Christmas in a glass. Certainly sweet, but not overly so, almost light in residual sugars, all things considered. It exploded in a flash of liquidised raisins in sherry. That's as much of a description as I could muster, but sounds good, right?

I won't bore you with the details of the walk back to the hotel, the search for any place open for some scraps of food or the Irish black and white pudding shoved into the beer fridge in the hotel corridor, but suffice to say, I want to go back. Bamberg is a pretty town, with oodles of history, but if you're a beer tourist, it has to be one of the most compact and rewarding places to visit in Germany, if not on the planet. I'm looking forward to the next one!


Unknown said...

Bamberg is one of my favorite places to visit. You should try the Bamberger Bierschmecker tour, which gets you a bamberg backpack, mug, bier guide and some coupons for bier (or something else) - available from the tourist office. I agree on the Ambrausium as well. Depressingly Stereotypically American beer pubby, in the bad way, with mostly uninspiring beer - although the doppelbock I had was acceptable. Alas, I had to overcome my depression at the Schlenkerla, which quickly killed it!

Barry Masterson said...

Actually, I did see that and was tempted. maybe next time, though it is nice to just linger in a place for a couple of hours :)

You're description of Ambräusianum is spot on! :D

Unknown said...

Forgot to mention that, while I enjoy the Faessla's beer and breakfast (I have stayed there and enjoyed it) I was underwhelmed by their dinner food. A German pensioner that I sat with and I both came to the same conclusion - uninspiring and a little costly - even with my horrible German! I had my best and most enjoyable extended time in their entrance hallway. Brauerei Spezial - inspiring and excellent food and beer! Will go there in April! Mahr's - wonderful! Maisel Bamberg - dead and depressing!

Unknown said...

Sorry for multiple posts, but I have done the Bierschmecker twice (and may do it again in April on my "retiring after 30 years in the US Army" getaway) and enjoyed it both times. The Kaiserdom Brauerei is a pain to walk to, but is worth the time to go there. Greifenklau - stayed in their hotel (not attached) and had a good time with good German breakfast included - yum! The location of the Klosterbrau was tremendous, the staff pleasant and the food pretty good to me. There are zillions of great little breweries in the vicinity of Bamberg (found a book in English at the Drei Kronen in Memmelsdorf - 19E) and I have not found a bad one yet! I will be back! Last post - sorry for droning!

Barry Masterson said...

No problem at all! Some good tips there too. I take it you like Bamberg? :D

g1ink said...

I had a similar experience with Keesman, my last 4 visits to that area found Keesman closed but Mahrs open every time. If you`re in the area again, take a 15min train ride South to Forcheim, head for the Kellerwald where you`ll find approx 26 beer gardens with about 30,000 seats. They all open at Annafest time, however quite a few of them open all year.