After being delayed by Ms. Irene for a couple of days, I finally made it back to Germany on Tuesday morning. The week itself was pretty uneventful, but with the return of sommerwetter - summer weather - I decided to go for a little 4 hour drive to an old favorite - Bamberg in Franconia!
My first point of interest is located on the other side of the canal. First across the canal...
Take Karolinenstrasse into another alley...
Crooked old buildings... Apparently, Bamberg is one of the three top cities in Europe for original "old town" architecture. Everywhere you go, nearly, it seems that there are old structures that have "only" been taken care of, not rebuilt, over the past centuries, and gives the town the authentic feel that I love.
And a different view of the Alte Rathaus...
But, by now my tummy is yelling for food, so it's off to the...
This is my place. I love smoked beers, and no one does it better than the original. In the blog post from my last trip, you can read a little more about my first experience with this incredible beer.
Basically, they offer quite a few beers
I start the feast with the Weizen. The smoke and wheat is such a good combination that my neighbor will be brewing this (or my feeble attempt at cloning/copying it) in 2 weeks.
With the beer, I order a Meat Stuffed Onion with mashed potatoes and sauce (and vegetables - a 'boat' of tomato and a 'twig' of parsley), fire up the laptop, and get ready to take notes. But no. My tablemates and I engage in a great conversation about everything and anything that is important in life.
Since they're both Tax Officers with the State of Bavaria, I have hidden their true identities behind some sunglasses and a hand.... Werner and Manfred are the nicest of guys. Friends for over 30 years, they often bike or travel around the region from their Franconian home town of Schweinfurt (did you know that "furt" means "ford", as in "river crossing?). Bamberg is a favorite, and for them, the 60k bike ride is replaced with a 45-60 minute train trip on the return.
I'm proud to say that Manfred and Werner force me to "speak" German during most of our conversation. Nonetheless, we enjoy topics that ranged from the concrete, to the fluid, to the spiritual. They also give me good tips on local places to see, some lessons in Franconian dialect, and tell me about the Bamberg Bier Pass - a trip to all 9 Bamberg breweries, starting on either this or that side of the Regnitz river that runs through town.
I hope to meet them again during some other coincidental trip to Bamberg! (Herren, Sie habe jetzt mein email adresse. Let me know when and where..! :)
Following a Märzen and a couple of Rauchschnapps, it is time for my new friends to catch the train, and for me to head up to Cafe Abseits.
Oh yeah, what about the Schlenkerla beer? I happen to think it's the best in the world. Simply stated. If you've tried & liked it, you know what I mean. I won't post pictures of neither the food or the beer, since I'm afraid Mike will kill me...
More later, but for now it's time to gather evidence from Abseits' menu:
First the Schlammersdorfer Landbier. This style is sometimes brewed too malty and too dark for my liking, but, as my friend from Braustelle, Sebastian, said, this is a light, fresh, and summer-friendly version.
Next on to something curious... As homebrewers, we often use Weyermann's grains for our products. I didn't know, but Sebastian enlightened me to the fact, that they have started their own Versuchsbrauerei (Trial brewery, for lack of a better translation). What luck for me, Cafe Abseits has a few on their menu, so I'm going for it.
Feeling a bit homesick, I've decided to try the Imperial IPA first:...
Ach du lieber Gott, was this bitter and hoppy! Perhaps it was the sweet schnapps given as sorry-we-forgot-about-you-compensation from the previous items that made the transition a bit like switching from milk to rauch, but after a couple of sips I now feel like I'm back to normal...
There's something different about this 2IPA, though. Perhaps it's the hops/malt combo, but it actually tastes more like a Weyerbacher-class beer, with lots of flavor and tremendous strength, but, as our friends from upper PA do very well so often, Weyberbacher Versuchsbrauerei hides the power behind a screen of citrus and grapefruit.
After the 2IPA, it is time to ask for help. With a list suggested to me by my friend, I asked the waitress to "surprise" me with her choice. She brought a Spezial Rauchbier Lager:
This is as delicious smoked Lager. Unlike its counterpart from across the town, this is probably categorized as somewhere between a Maerzen and a Dunkel Lager. But, the smoke is incredible, it is light-ish and very refreshing. Definitely a bitter aftertaste to it, but I think that goes with the smoked territory, since I get that from every beer tonight, it seems.
Spezial and Fässla are often overlooked (along with Kaiserdom and others) when we think of beers from Bamberg. Heller Trum, the makers of Schlenkerla, has been incredibly successful (and deservedly so) in their brewing, promotion, and sales of the rauchbier style throughout the world.
But, it is a "style", a "regional specialty", and something other breweries do well, as well. Spezial and Fässla have their own takes on these beers, and as I continue to test out the menu of Cafe Abseits I'm hoping I can bring you a review or two.
I have now been joined by Gerhardt, a friend of Sebastian @ Braustelle, and responsible for the beer selection at Cafe Abseits. The place is small, unassuming, and hidden away across the railroad tracks in a residential neighborhood. The biergarten is nice and typical for Germany, spartanly furnished, but with customers from all walks of life.
Gerhardt and I engage in a conversation about beer like nothing else. He's extremely knowledgeable and takes pride in the selections he carefully makes for his bar. He tells me in detail about the Weyermann Versuchsbrauerei, how they produce beers, schnapps, and other grain-based products not for commercial purposes, but to test their own malts and "do as their customers do". The resulting products are sold in the Weyermann "Fanshop", but I don't think it's open on Sundays.
Next up is a new favorite - Schneiderweisse Hopfenweisse, a very hoppy weissbier that is so delicious I have to do it twice.
Schneider & Co bring the evening to a grateful close for me, and I head back to Hotel Alt Bamberg. After a decent night's sleep in a small and hot room (no A/C around these parts), it's up and to follow Manfred and Werner's recommendations from the previous evening. A little walk up into the hills of Bamberg, you can find the Greifenklau Brauerei. I won't be testing the beer, but the biergarten is simply too nice to miss:
The menu included a local specialty, Schauferla, which will become my brunch before I soon head down the road to my next destinations.
(That's Coke, by the way.)
On my way back to Cologne, I drove through Schlammersdorf, but ended up at the Kreuzberg location, where there's a huge biergarten and people and families enjoying church and food and beer!
Alas, I was neither hungry or thirsty, so I only wandered around for a while, then took a last glance at the beautiful South German countryside, and headed back north towards Cologne.
Auf Wiedersehen Franconia - I hope to be back soon!