Styles & Seasonals
October 25, 2007 Written by bierkoning
La Tropica, NETHERLANDS -
Is there any reason to spend time in the Oberpfalz? It is hardly mentioned in travel guides: Windischeschenbach. A very small town in the Oberpfalz, in de Freestate of Bavaria, close to the Czech border, surrounded by hills, woods, petty farms, partly destroyed castles, endless fields, small villages and fast flowing rivers. Ideally suited for long walks and cycling tours, like my wife Diane and I did in early September. But although Windischeschenbach isn’t exactly known for its cultural events, museums and exciting nightlife it is a capital city. The capital city of Zoigl, that is.
And what is Zoigl exactly? That is not easy to answer, but I will in this article try to describe it as good as I possibly can. Let’s try to start with the history.
The Zoigl has a tradition of centuries. Kommunbrauhäuser were already known in the early 15th century. The town of Neuhaus, situated on a hill a stiff 15 minutes walk away from Windischeschenbach already had an active Kommunbrauhaus in 1415. A Kommunbrauhaus is the place were traditionally Zoigl was brewed. But more about this later. You will find a more detailed history on <a href=www.zoigl.de>www.zoigl.de (in German)
As a sign that a house pours Zoigl you will find a Zoiglstern “Zoigl Star”, clearly visible on the wall of the house. The Zoiglstern symbolises the elements of fire, water and air, just as water, hops and malt, al you need to have to brew a decent beer (except for the yeast).
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In the past there were more than 50 known Kommunbrauhaüser in the Oberpfalz. They have had their ups and downs, and 5 have survived the centuries. Now they are making somewhat of a revival. By the way: Franconia also has two Kommunbrauhäuser: Rossach and Sesslach, both some 20 kilometres from Bamberg.
Why a Kommunbrauhaus? The Oberpfalz towns gave every civilian born in the town the right to brew beer and pour it to guests. Every civilian, except for the clergymen, the judges, the lawyers and the civil servants. Even now the cities own and maintain the Kommunbrauhäuser. Whoever wants to use it pays a small fee “Kesselgeld” and has to leave the place clean and tidy for the next brewer. Imagine a communal brewery in Brussels, Amsterdam or New York. I my wildest dreams I can. Mr. John Smith pays 10 bucks to the city of New York, buys some malt, yeast and hops and brews his beer to pour it to his friends and neighbours on a sunny Sunday afternoon. In Windischeschenbach this just happens!
The brewing process. Quite simple. I happened to pass the Kommunbrauhaus on the moment a young man had just finished brewing a batch of Zoigl. Herr Popp was the brewer from Beim Gloser Zoiglstube in Windischeschenbach. He invited me in. I saw a brewing kettle and a cooking kettle. Both looking ancient but still in fine shape. The kettles are heated with direct fire. “This adds greatly to the character of the Zoigl”, Herr Popp said.
He used malts from Weyermann in Bamberg, a mix of Pilsener and Münchener malt, which takes care of the orange blonde color. Herr Popp doesn’t hop his wort heavily, although the Zoigl still has a firm but lovely flowery hop character.
After boiling for several hours the wort is transported to a Kuhlschiff (koelschip, “cooling ship”), a low copper container without a roof where the wort is allowed to cool down during the night and is partly exposed to the open air (there are holes in the roof of the Kommunbrauhaus in WDE). I have only seen this in the Cantillon brewery in Brussels. Herr Popp cherishes the Kuhlschiff: “This also adds to the character”, he says. “Brewing Zoigl is the sheer basis of brewing beer”. And he is right. Zoigl is just malt, hops, water and yeast. 12 Degrees Balling. Simple and straightforward. Bottom fermented. Although: Popp has no fear of modernizing. Stainless steal is used for fermenting and lagering the wort on his premises. Wooden fermenting and lagering casks haven’t been used for 20 years or so. The Zoigl lagers for up to four weeks. Directly after the Stube has been open for four days Popp brews a new batch that should be ready for the next weekend that his Zoigl is poured, four weeks later. Popp doesn’t bottle, but customers can always bring their own bottles to get it filled.
Zoigl can roughly be divided into four categories.
First: the real Zoiglbier from the Kommunbrauhaus. Eslarn has only one: Beim Ströhern in the Tillystrasse 4, just as Falkenberg: Kramer-Wolf in the Tirschenreuther Strasse 4. This is probably why a beergeek travelling to Falkenberg on Wednesdays doesn’t have a chance to taste real Kommunbrauhaus Zoigl. Kramer opens only on weekends, 12 times a year. Mitterteich has three: Boozhaus in the Bachstrasse, Hartwich in the Angergasse and Oppl in the Oberer Markt. Neuhaus has five Zoiglstubes: Bahler , Käckn, Schafferhof, Teicher and Schoilmichl, all on the Market Square, so a search won’t be necessary. During the weekend Diane and I visited Neuhaus only Schoilmichl had opened and the place was filled with friendly locals, enjoying their Zoigl in the early autumn sun, and having a Brotzeit (bread with various sausages and cheeses on a platter). Schoilmichl has Zoigl and Zoigl Weizen, a topfermented Zoigl, vaguely resembling a Weizenbier, although the beer is 100% malt. The Zoigl is also sold in swing top bottles to take away.
Windischeschenbach has 10 Zoiglstubes. Beim Gloser at the Lehnerberg, Binner at the Kleiau, Da Roude and Fiedlschneider at the Stadtplatz, Schlosshof at the Schlosshof 13, Stern at the Neustädter Strasse, Zum Posterer at An der alten Post 5 and Loistl in the Neustädter Strasse. Loistl also has a Stube in Altenstadt. Oberpfälzer Hof in the Hauptstrasse and Weisser Schwan in the Pfarrgasse are charming little hotels that pour their own Zoigl. Diane and I spent a few days in Weisser Schwan. This Gasthof is almost self supporting: cheap, well maintained rooms, an excellent kitchen with local dishes, meat from the own butchery and home grown vegetables, as fresh as you can imagine. And a well brewed and tasty Zoigl, of course. I have tasted Zoigl from Beim Gloser, Stern, Oberpfälzer Hof and Weisser Schwan. All Zoigls have their own character and flavor, although there are clear family ties. Should be listed as separate beers under the Kommunbrauhaus, I guess. The traditional Stubes are always full with people and laughter. The Stubes may look old and poorly maintained from the outside, inside you will find an old, very rural looking interior, old beer glasses from breweries closed a long time ago, simple but fresh, cheap and tasty food and Zoigl for a miserable € 1,50 for a half litre glass.
You will find the Zoiglkalender of the various Zoiglstubes on websites like <a href=www.zoiglbier.de>www.zoiglbier.de, but also the city of Windischeschenbach has the opening times on its website. The hotels mentioned above pour Zoigl every weekday. On October 3 2007 (Tag der Deutschen Einheit and Day of the German Beer) all Zoiglstubes in Neuhaus are open. Something to remember if you are in the neighborhood.
Second category: Zoiglbier from Zoiglbrewers that exclusively brew Zoigl. So far there is only one known: Wolframstub’n , in an alley near the Hauptstrasse in Windischeschenbach. Wolframstub’n has its own brewing equipment for years and doesn’t use the facilities of the Kommunbrauhaus anymore, but, like most other Zoiglstubes, sells its beer only on 12 weekends per year. Should be listed as a separate brewery.
Third category: Zoiglstuben in other towns as the ones mentioned before. Examples are Zum Bärenwirt and Neistädter Stubn in Neustadt, nine kilometres from WDE. Diane and I visited Neustadt, just to find out that they had the Zoiglstern on the wall, but were closed for the day. But there are numerous others in villages like Floss, Bärnau, Parkstein and Vohenstrauss and towns like Weiden. <a href=www.tourismus.neustadt.de>www.tourismus.neustadt.de no doubt has a comprehensive list. As far as I know, they buy Zoigl from the Zoiglstubes in the towns with the Kommunbrauhäuser and shouldn’t be regarded as a separate beer.
Fourth category: commercial breweries that brew Zoigl. Schlossbrauerei Friedenfels, Brauerei Hösl in Irchenrieth (excellent!) Pirker Brauhaus, Schlossbrauerei Reuth and last-but- not-least the local Würth Brewery in Windischeschenbach, that has a dark and a light colored Zoigl in swing top bottles. Würth seems a bit harmed by the rising popularity of the Kommunbrauhaus beers, but the beers brewed by this brewery are really not bad. I hope the brewery is still fully active on my next visit to Windischeschenbach. Commercial Zoigl should be mistaken for the original Zoigl from the Kommunbrauhaus. They taste different and look different, but can be quite tasty and well made.
Windischeschenbach calls itself the capital of Zoigl, and rightly so. But the small town seems largely unaware of the uniqueness of its position. Good for us beer lovers, but the beautiful environment and the unique beers deserve a bigger audience, so that the very quiet town gets a bit more pride and liveliness.