Saturday, November 24, 2007

Germany trip recap part II: Bamberg

After a relatively short train ride, we arrived in Bamberg early Monday afternoon. By the time we checked into our room at the Brauerei Fässla, it was too late to eat lunch at Brauerei Spezial across the street, so we found a local Imbiss and Leah got to try her first Döner Kebap. For those who have never had one, a Döner is a Turkish sandwich very similar to a gyro, and it's very popular in Germany (like hot dogs or burritos in the U.S.). The place we went happened to have excellent Döners. They were huge and came with both garlic sauce and a feta-like cheese. After that we headed back to Spezial. I first tried their Märzen Rauchbier (despite Bamberg's reputation for Rauchbier--German beer brewed with smoked malts--only Schlenkerla and Spezial actually brew Bamberger Rauchbier, and only Schlenkerla exports to the U.S. EDIT: I recently discovered that Spezial's Rauchbier is indeed available at fine beer stores in the U.S., which is good news to me!). It was awesome, with much more of a roast character than the Schlenkerla I had in the states. I thought the roast notes complemented the smokiness very well, which I guess explains why many American brewers have chosen porter as the style of choice for their smoked beers. I tried their Bock as well, which seemed to be a maltier, hoppier version of their smoked Märzen. While the Bock was also great, I think I actually liked the regular Märzen better because it allowed for the subtleties of the beer to shine, while the Bock sort of hid them. Leah had their Ungespundet Kellerbier (an unfiltered lager) which was unfortunately bottled but very good nonetheless. The travel day was quite exhausting, so while I took a stroll around the Altstadt that evening we didn't hit any other breweries.

The next day, we grabbed lunch at Klosterbräu, which is perhaps best known for its Schwärzla black lager. It was very good, though quite roasty to the point of having porter-like qualities. While some call Schwarzbier "the black Pils," nobody would mistake this for a Pils. As our lunch came out (I had local sausages--which were good, not great--and Leah had some sort of deep-fried rolled up potato pancakes stuffed with a soft cheese-- which was amazing), I tried their Bock. It turned out it wasn't a Dunkeles (dark) Bock like I would have expected but a Helles (light) Bock. It was an absolutely beautiful pour, with the snow white head towering above the mug. The beer itself was good, though a little too sweet for me. I tried Leah's selection, called a Braunbier (brown beer), and it was awesome. BeerAdvocate has it listed as an Oktoberfest, and while it was the color of an Oktoberfest, it had more caramel flavor and less toasted flavor than what I think of as an Oktoberfest. A very flavorful beer.

Next we headed to Mahr's, which actually exports some of its beer to the U.S. While they are most famous for their Ungespundet Kellerbier, they--like Spezial--didn't have it on tap. This would be an annoying, reoccurring theme in Bamberg: while their breweries make multiple wonderful beers, they only have at most two on tap at a given time. Perhaps this isn't such a big deal at other times of the year, but during Bockbier season, this meant that one of their regulars was demoted to bottle status. Not that I'm complaining, mind you... It's just a stark contrast to the U.S., where part of the fun of visiting a brewpub is getting their slate of regular offerings plus their specialty beers. Anyway, Marh's did have their Helles on tap, which proved very flavorful. It was much more floral than your typical Helles, but not overly hopped by any means. I next tried their Bockbier, also the Helles variety. (On a side note, my other disappointment was that most Bocks available in Bamberg proved to be the Helles kind, when I was expecting darker offerings.) Like the Klosterbräu Helles Bock, I thought it was nice and flavorful, but it just didn't stand out. Though most sources consider Helles Bocks to be the same as Maibocks (traditionally brewed for May consumption), I suspect that their fall Helles Bocks aren't as strongly hopped as Maibocks, and I think if you brew something as malty as a Bock you need either an extra hop kick (as with a Maibock) or some extra roasted notes (as with a dark Bock or Doppelbock) to keep it from being too sweet. Nonetheless, I certainly didn't mind drinking it.

Before I get to our last day in Bamberg, I'll mention one other oddity about Bamberg breweries. They really don't have bars like we do. When you walk in to each pub, there's a long corridor/lobby, and there will be a door to the right or left (or sometimes both if it's a big place) through which you enter the restaurant. In the restaurant are long rows of wooden tables, where you can sit down and drink and/or order a meal. However, if you just want to hang around and drink (like you would in a bar in the U.S.), you'll notice a window in the lobby, through which you can order a beer "to go." So often the lobbies are crowded with people loitering with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. I haven't seen that in any German city other than Bamberg, so I figured it was worth noting.

Anyway, for our last day in Bamberg, we headed out to Schlenkerla for lunch. This is the most famous Bamberg brewery, and it was pretty damn crowded. I had their Bock (which was of the dark variety) and found it to be less sweet and smokey than their bottled version I've had in the U.S. I don't know if the character of the beer changes over time or if this batch just came out differently, but the smoke just didn't seem as assertive. I should also mention that we tried their Bratwurstsuppe ("bratwurst soup") which was awesome. Imagine if you took French onion soup, strained out the onions, and replaced them with a few chunks of bratwurst. That's basically what this was, only it tasted way better than you'd think based on my description. Leah also tried their Weizen (wheat beer) which was interesting because the smoke was somewhat subdued but still very much there, and it had to compete with the typical Weizen yeast bite. Very good and perhaps a worthy introduction to Rauchbier for someone new to the style.

Our final stop in Bamberg was to the Weissbierhaus, the sister restaurant to Maisel Bräu, whose brewery was on the edge of town and a bit too far of a walk for such a cold, rainy/snowy day. I had German meatloaf (which I thought was pretty gutsy since who knows what they were throwing in there) and Leah had curry chicken. Leah had yet another Kellerbier from a bottle (alas, we never got to try a Kellerbier vom Faß--on tap--the entire time in Bamberg) and I had another Helles Bock. Both were great, but I have to say I was in need of something to break the Helles Bock monotony. I was hoping to find out if the Bockbier at Brauerei Fässla (where we were staying) was actually a dark Bock instead of another Helles, but we then found out that the German train engineers were going on strike and we would need to figure out how to get to Köln (Cologne) and Düsseldorf the next day. Fortunately, I finally figured out that the strike meant a consolidated schedule as opposed to no schedule at all, and we could get to Köln without having to rent a car. Unfortunately, the train we needed to take would leave at 6:45am and by the time I figured everything out I forgot to run down to the Fässla pub and try their Bock. As a result, I never tried the beer in the very pub we were renting a room from. Oh well. It was time to say goodbye to Bamberg and hello to the land of Kölsch and Altbier!

Jump to Part III: Düsseldorf/Köln.


Blogger Adam said...

I'm so jealous! Thanks for sharing. Nice pics too.

1:51 PM, December 05, 2007  

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