Greetings fellow Bierliebhaber!
Another trip to Germany, and another opportunity to educate my mind and palate - this time in historical Heidelberg
in the southwestern part of the country.
Originally, I had set my sights on Frankfurt, but the overwhelming recommendations from my colleagues swayed me from that and moved me an additional 50km or so further south. My brother-in-law was also stationed near here during his Army Sniper stint, and I remembered him telling me about it with a yearning in his voice.
So - Heidelberg it was, and a good choice it turned out to be!
I arrived in Heidelberg at 4pm after the 259km drive south from Cologne. The Autobahn is usually pretty easy to manouver, but today the rain was causing accidents from slick surfaces and horrible visibility. Not a good combination when you're doing over 80 mph...
I checked in at the Hotel Neu Heidelberg
, a cozy and friendly place about 4-5 miles outside of town. It was very reasonable - under 60 Euros or about $85-90.
I took the tram into town and got off at Bismarkplatz and began walking. Stupidly, I had forgotten both my umbrella and my printed map, and I now have a feeling I'll be suffering the consequences as the evening wears on.
Trying to use my phone's GPS and maps, I wandered down Hauptstrasse looking for the street names where I could find my targets. Luckily, I came across the Heidelberg Schlossquell and popped in to get my bearings and begin beering.
This was a beautiful place with all old wooden furniture and a great atmosphere. I was hoping to sit in the Biergarten in the back, but it looked closed, so I sat down at a bar area in front of an old cooking area and ordered my first beer - an Heidelberg Original, a Dunkel Bier with the typical brown color, malted aroma with hints of caramel, and a nice twang at the end.
Sitting here on my bench, taking notes and musing, a group of Norwegian tourists sat down next to me. It' was fun to listen to what these folks say when they think no one understands them... Actually, they behaved themselves nicely, with conversations so boring I tuned them out. Two minutes later, I could tell they were about to ask me for Internet access, and I preempted and surprised them quite a bit. Turned out one of them studied here in Heidelberg, and had a few additional recommendations for places to visit. Never one to pass up on a good place, I finished up and went on wandering!
I stumbled upon the first place close to the Karlsplatz and another square in front of the Akademie, where you get a great view of the Schloss Heidelberg.
The castle is clearly being worked on, but it is a magnificent structure which demonstrates the central and powerful role this town must have held in politics, religion, and economy in this region. Around the corner, was my recommended stop, Zum Seppl
I was surprised to find an Schlosser Alt in here, and since I've taken to the style I promptly went for that one (been OD'ing a bit on straight Weizen lately...)
Not nearly as distinct as the ones I tried in Dusseldorf
, it was a nice Altbier with slight hints of a British Ale, perhaps?
Both the Zum Seppl and its neighbor Zum Roten Ochsen (Red Oxen) are traditional student hangouts from centuries back. You can really feel the ghosts of time speak to you as you sit in them, and it makes me wonder what it was like to be a student, worker, or someone "higher up" in this old city a long time ago. In here, students lobbed ambitions, fists, and lofty ideas at each other, as the pictures on the wall bear witness along with walls, chairs and tables all carved out with initials and slogans.
Next, I was about to skip next door to the Roten Ochsen
, bumping into the same crowd of Norwegians hot on my trail.
They were fully booked, but allowed me in to have a quick beer. Before I knew it, I had a large Heidelberger 1603 Lager in my hand and could do nothing but attack it.
Now, how come we can't get vessels like this at the Hulmeville?? :)
The Red Bull has a great menu, so I hope to come back here tomorrow after my castle tour to grab lunch and an Ochsensteinkrug as a souvenir.
Hurrying out before I got kicked out, it was time to resume the originally planned route. All in the name of research!
I love how one destination ends up being close to the previous one! 100 feet straight, 50 feet down, and I'm at the Kulturbrauerei Heidelberg AG
- ignore the annoying music on their website!. It's only been around for 10 years, but they've earned a reputation for good food and top quality beer, so I was eager to try it out.
This has got to be my setup at some point...!
Inside, the place smells deliciously of the best German food you can imagine, and it's clear that they're serious about serving their brew. They have take-outs, in 1 or 2 liter growlers, and I only wish I had brought a cooler...
My first beer was the their seasonal, a Fest Bier. Almost like a Blonde Ale with a light hoppy start and mild finish. Enjoyed it, but nothing I'd send letters to Santa about.
Next up - thank god they had small glasses - was the Krausen Bier. A picture on their website had made my mouth water, unfortunately I can't find the link again, but here's what it looked like:
It looked mild and it was mild. Too mild and undistinguished. Moved on as quickly as I could muster. To a Dunkel Weizen and it was paydirt!
This was an amazing dark wheat, cloudy and appealing to look at. It hits the whole of your mouth with a complexity of aromas and flavors. On the one hand, you can tell it's a Weizen, but it adds smoke, roasted flavor, and a whole bunch of other yummies to the experience that I won't pretend to have the vocabulary to describe. I asked my server for more details, and he said he was happy to enlighten me. Munich Malt is what he said. The rest is a secret, so so much for discovering something revolutionary. But the beer, the beer was still awesome, and worth the visit alone.
Now it's off to Vetter, where I hear the beer is better and the food is worse, so stay tuned....
Found my way to Vetter and tried desperately to get someone's attention to buy a beer. Ignored for 3 minutes, my empty stomach demanded filing, so I backtracked about 10 meters to Goldener Hecht and ordered some liver dumplings with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes.
Very good food, but the smell from Kultur still stuck in my mind. At the Goldener Hecht they had nothing better than a Heidelberger Lager to offer, but it went down without too much of a protest.
Ok, so back to the Vetter I went. This is a very popular place, which may explain the arrogance of the serving staff I experienced for the second time. At last, upon direct inquiry, the "bartender" told me that the way to get a beer was to sit down at a table. And so I did, and within a minute I had the chance to inquire about and order a beer.
Not really wanting anymore of the light stuff (smart move, right?), I decided to try their dark wheat, Dunkel Weizen.
If I made this myself, I'd love it. If I bought it at a local brewpub I'd like it. But compared to the previous Dunkel Weizen at Kultur, it couldn't even light a spark.
It was time to move to the "Vetter 33", the main reason for wearing my legs and liver out. According to their not-so-elegant advertising, it was deemed the strongest beer in the world at some point. Their website describes it as 37% ABV, but their own menu dials it in at around 11%
The beer was... well, sweet, overly malty, and not what I'd call balanced for "only" 11%. If anyone could drink more than 2 ounces of this syrup, I'd be amazed. At this point in the evening, I'm letting the whole glass pass me by.
My expectations were high for Vetter, but I have to sadly state that it's been the biggest disappointment so far of all the places I've visited in Germany so far.
So, I packed my bags and went back to the best beer of the night - Kulturbrauhaus. I had another couple of their Dunkel Weizen, sniffed in the wonderful aroma from their kitchen, and wished i had another day or six to spend tasting it all.
Thanks for listening,
PS: Tomorrow I wll visit the castle (to find the thing Chris told me was in there...), have a hearty South-German lunch, and then head back up to Cologne.