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Oakes Weekly - July 9, 2009
FRANCONIAN BEER RULES
July 9, 2009
Last week I couldnít help but get the diacetyl thing off my chest, but this week I want to explain how crazy Franconia is when it comes to beer. Youíre all familiar with the reputation that Bamberg has and you all know about the rauchbier. If youíre been here, you probably know the rest of what Iím going to say but if you havenít been here, you might have a tough time believing some of it.
So let me start from the start. There are several differences between Franconian beer and beer from other parts of Bavaria. While many Franconian brewers make the usual styles like Dunkel, Hell, Hefeweizen and Pils, they specialize in a couple of other styles as well. The first is rauchbier, which is made by one out of every five or six breweries in the Bamberg area. The second is the Franconian country lager, which can have any number of different names as I explained last week. There are regional differences in these beers, too. For example around NŁrnberg they tend to be darker and maltier. In the Bamberg area they are paler and hoppier. In each case, they may have quite a bit of farmhouse character and/or diacetyl. Though I must say, in many instances the latter is not present and this is to the benefit of the beer. Without it, these beers have tremendous character. They look great, foaming over the rim of the ceramic mug (krug) as they do. They are exceptionally appetizing. The breweries are often old, and some of them are still wood-fired. They may use open fermenters in some of the older ones, though I have to say I havenít seen that yet (not that Iíve seen the equipment at all the breweries).
These lagers are the staple of the Franconian beer scene, and differentiate Franconian beer from that of other regions in Germany. The region is also differentiated by its beer culture. Yes, you can still find crappy industrial beer, colaweizen and other such signs of the apocalypse, but for the most part drinking great beer is simply an accepted part of everyday life. This is a rural area, and the people here are accepted as quaint and backward to most Germans. The truth is, thatís what keeps the beer culture going. Barley, wheat and hops are everywhere. Biergartens are a staple and even in the cities people seek out the rustic country beers.
Not that one needs to go far to hit a country brewery. In Bamberg kreis (the equivalent of a US county) there are 140,000 people and by my count they are served by 54 breweries. Thatís one brewery for every 2600 people. The town of Bamberg (not included in the county) has 9 breweries for its 70,000 people, not a bad ratio at all. There are many, many villages with under 1000 people that have a brewery. In some cases, the brewpub is the only business; or the only pub is a brewpub. It is of utmost importance that a town have a butcher, a baker and a brewer. Yes, Franconia is losing some of its country brewers. But the density of breweries here is higher than anywhere else on Earth.
Beer is more important here than just about anywhere else on Earth. The US, with its supposedly great emerging beer culture, still has dry counties, major cities without microbreweries, repressive laws, and most licensed establishments only serve crap. That is not the case here at all. You basically have to go to a nightclub or a Chinese restaurant to avoid good beer here. Dive bars, sports bars, student bars, yuppie barsÖyup, they all have good beer from craft brewers. If youíre sick of wandering into a random bar and crossing your fingers hoping they have dusty bottles of Sam Adams Lager, then Franconia is for you.
I was going to list my favorites here, but after visiting a dozen more breweries this past week I would argue that the list of ones that arenít my favorites might be a shorter list. Our ride last Sunday included four stops. The first was pretty good, and they just got better from there. It was one hit after another. And quite frankly, aside from the odd butterbomb, thatís what it is like here. You just donít seem to ever run out of great beer.
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