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The Gravitational Pull of Franconia

Day 2: In and Around Schesslitz
Beer Travels June 29, 2006      
Written by MartinT

Montreal, CANADA -

I was so excited on the bus to Schesslitz that we got off at the wrong bus stop. 3 kilometers from our destination! In my defense, I wasn’t expecting to drive by a brewery with the same name as the one I was looking for in Schesslitz: Drei Kronen. There already was one on the way over in Memmelsdorf, which we were planning on visiting later in the week, and according to all renowned web sources, there wasn’t supposed to be anything in Strassgiech, the tiny village you pass through before eventually getting to Schesslitz. Especially not another Brauerei Drei Kronen! Once off the bus, it started dawning on me that the brewery’s façade wasn’t anything like that of Schesslitz’s Drei Kronen, which I had seen on the web. Second of piece of conviction, their opening hours didn’t match those I was given at all. They weren’t going to be open until 4 p.m., nearly 4 hours from now. Oy. It’s not until we walked out of town, a mere couple hundred meters from the brewery, that we realized we couldn’t be in Schesslitz. It just wasn’t supposed to be this small! A road sign or two later, we learned that we were 3 kilometers away from where we really wanted to be, and commenced walking in the tall grass along the country road. It turns out this Drei Kronen in Strassgiech isn’t operating anymore, but seems to be a front for a larger brewery which now owns it. Many such examples exist in Franconia, such as Schmitt-Bräu in Schesslitz. The trials and perils of beerhunting…;)

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Schesslitz, at last!

Once on Schesslitz’s picturesque main street, we finally found the Drei Kronen I was looking for, in all its drab and grey glory. They were supposed to be open for lunch and dinner, with a midday pause, from 2 to 5. Even though we were well before this pause, they had apparently decided to break earlier that day, as they told us to come back later for dinner. Would we ever get our first beer of the day? Thankfully, Schesslitz has another brewpub, right up the same street: Brauerei Barth-Senger. And they were open for business! This was undoubtedly the smallest brewery I had even been to. 4 tables only! 2 of these were already taken by blue-collar workers in their bright orange coveralls, chatting away over a pint of the only beer brewed here, a Völlbier, served from the gravity cask. Caramel maltiness was appropriately balanced with the earthy, resinous hoppiness, all in a soft, prickly carbonation which rendered a most comfortable mouthfeel. Herbal hop bitterness lingered happily, as did we, attempting to understand what the jolly guys were talking about. To no avail, not surprisingly. A funny tradition here is to knock on every occupied table when you come in the tiny pub or when you get out. We didn’t know what they were expecting of us at first, but we quickly understood that a simple return salute was enough. A very warm way to make you feel welcome!

<IMG border=0 SRC=/images/features/DreiKronen.jpg>
This is the Drei Kronen we want!

<IMG border=0 SRC=/images/features/Barth-Senger.JPG>
A few meters further is Barth-Senger

So after wrapping our knuckles on the only other occupied table upon leaving, we set off for the Giechburg, a steep hill outside of Schesslitz on which stand the ruins of a medieval castle. The last few hundred meters are pretty steep, and are perfect to stimulate thirst. The winds and view from the top of the Giechburg are definitely invigorating, overlooking the yellow and green checkerboard that is this part of the Franconian countryside. We declined a tractor ride to go back down, as we weren’t ready yet, but once we started walking back down, Marie wished we had taken the generous offer. We initially wanted to walk a few kilometers through the fields to Köttensdorf, where Brauerei Hoh brews a kellerbier, but this unwanted foot pain made us set back to Schesslitz for a late lunch.

Back in town, as predicted, Drei Kronen were still in their midday pause, so we opted for a nearby Gaststube (restaurant) which offered a few beers from Brauerei Hartmann in neighbouring Würgau. The Pils vom Fass provided a healthy haystack, sitting on bready, toasted malts. A svelte mouthfeel upon which sneaks wooden, minty hop bitterness. A stereotypical German pils (uninventive for Franconia, we would learn), but of very good quality.

After a filling meal, we thought that Drei Kronen would open, as we had timed ourselves to be ready around 5 p.m., when the brewery would re-open. The bus out of Schesslitz was at 6:08, so we would have one hour to relax and sample their wares. Except that at 5:15, the lights were still closed, and no one was to be seen in preparation for a busy evening. The door of the schwemm (“inner hallway”) was open, as was the door to the Gaststätte, but we felt like they were hiding from us, not wanting to do any business that day after all. We walked out back to the narrow yard between the kitchen and the actual brewery, and sat at one of the garden tables set out there, with a view on an immense barn. Finally, after peeking through enough windows, we found the old matron who was shyly smiling, but obviously worried that we would ask for food. Thankfully, we just wanted beer! They had one beer vom Fass, simply named Lagerbier. Delicate cereal and toasted maltiness pervaded in both aroma and flavor, developing into honeyed sweetness, providing a bulky yet very drinkable mouthfeel. Yet another lager which grew on me as I downed my pint. This region is definitely getting its hooks in me, slowly but surely.

<IMG border=0 SRC=/images/features/DreiKronenHof.jpg>
Franconia’s beauty is sinking in

Back in Bamberg, the sun was shining, and the birds ever so melodious. Divine weather: no wind, no heat, no cold. Another keller was calling us: Spezial Keller, up on the Stephansberg, right next to the Heller-Trum brewery, brewers of the fantastic Schlenkerla line served at the gaststätte we had been to the day before. Spezial Keller is known for its splendid aerial view on the Bamberg Dom. Words cannot aptly describe this:

<IMG border=0 SRC=/images/features/SpezialKeller.jpg>
A majestic view from Spezial Keller

They served Spezial’s Rauchbier Lager vom Fass here, as well as Spezial’s Weissbier. The Lager had a beautiful equilibrium of herbal, grassy hops and calculated smoked maltiness, fading into a soft finish where pillowy natural carbonation and drying smoke made you just want to drink it all evening. The Weissbier (smoked as well) had lots of banana esters going for it, as well as earthy, wooden smokiness which was lightly perceptible at first. The doughy yeastiness ended alongside faintly bittering hops; another Spezial success. Some rauchbier lovers might be disappointed a bit, some weizen lovers might like it a lot, and some might be weirded out by the combo. But this is a unique creature, no matter what.

As if the day hadn’t been filled with liquid luxury already, we stopped at the Stöhrenkeller on the way down to our nearby apartment. This bar offers a couple of regional beers, namely the Lagerbier from Brauerei Zur Sonne in Bischberg. It was furnished with clever hay and serene citrus fruit, ending in a harmonious wooden, herbal hop bitterness. Just another frank, natural, well-crafted session lager from the Franconian countryside. I will never get bored of those.

Beer of the day: Spezial Rauchbier Lager



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