Following the Weekend of Spontaneous Fermentation was an overnight bus ride to Nuremberg, which included an unscheduled 5am change of buses in Frankfurt. Not that it mattered as it was already light out and sleep was off the menu anyway.
There were issues with our apartment in Bamberg so we needed to kill a few days before getting settled. We took that as a good excuse to explore some more German beer. One of the beeriest towns in Germany is Amberg, with an ‘A’. This is a town in the Oberpfalz region, and we based ourselves out of nearby Sulzbach-Rosenberg, staying at a brewery guesthouse there.
Amberg is a typically pretty walled town with six breweries and another tap or two for former breweries who still have their brands contracted out. Sulzbach has a further two breweries. More importantly, the region is a potential jumping off point for Zoigl-land, which if you arrive at the right time is one of the happiest places on Earth for the serious beer geek.
First up, Sulzbach and Amberg. The breweries in this region all offer pretty much the same experience in terms of happy biergarten vibe, but the beers differ a bit in quality. I thought the new Schloderer brewpub made great stuff. I was fairly impressed with Bruckmuller as well. Schliesl, which is one of the contract producers (their product being made a few doors down at Winkler) was another favorite, their brands being quite superior to the Winkler beers. We discovered two things at Sterk, in rural/suburban Raigering. First, we saw a bunch of cyclists dismount and walk into the pub without so much as locking their bikes. I’ve noticed that bike safety isn’t a huge concern here. There are a bunch of them parked without being locked to any fixed object in the alley outside our Bamberg flat. In Vancouver, they’d just back the truck up and load them all off in one go. It’s really cool that even good bikes stand little risk of being stolen.
The other thing we noticed at Sterk was diacetyl. We’ve since come across this a few times in Bavaria and it makes no sense to us. What does that vile brewing flaw have to do with good Bavarian beer? Why do brewers and consumers accept it when there are many other nearby breweries that do not destroy their beer with this garbage? We’re scared, man, because 500ml of butter is not something we ever want to be stuck with.
The second reason for coming to Oberpfalz was Zoigl. There are many beers in the area named “zoigl” but for the most part they are not the real deal. Zoigl, properly, is made by communal breweries owned by the village, for which several families will have brewing rights. When the beer is brewed, it is released in pubs that are only open when zoigl is available. The pubs brew and open on a rotating schedule.
What this means is that you never quite know what you’ll get. You basically show up in Windischeschenbach – usually on the weekend – and walk around looking for pubs that are hanging the zoigl star – a star of David – outside. Two pubs have zoigl almost always, so we stopped first at the White Swan. I liked their zoigl the best. Basically the five we had all shared the same characteristics – a rustic Bavarian country lager with a juicy hop character, balanced malts and high drinkability. Simple, delicious beer.
After the White Swan we found Zum Roud’n. Walking into this place was like walking into your Bavarian grandmother’s living room. OK, there are a lot of brewpubs in Bavaria like that, but this was especially so. The crowd was amiable enough with respect to our interloping, and we tucked into zoigl number two.
We plotted a route that would take us past a number of other zoigl-houses, none open on this day, towards the bridge that crosses the river to Neuhaus. Neuhaus is another of the five zoigl towns and one zoigl-house will be open each weekend on a rotating basis. The town is built on a hill, with a 13th century fort on top. The Teicher zoigl-house was open on this day, and delivered a fantastic zoigl that proved to be Beershine’s favorite.
Back down the hill and across the river, we found the Oberpfalz Hof open for business with their zoigl. This hotel/restaurant is closed for siesta – as many places in Bavaria are – but otherwise is along with the White Swan a reliable daily source of zoigl. There, we found the “zoigl schedule”, which indicated we wouldn’t find any more, but the proprietor informed us that Zum Posterer was also open. So off we went. Most of the zoigl houses are within a stone’s throw of each other, Zum Posterer being no exception. This was the most boisterous place we visited, and we were lucky to find table space. They were giving their zoigl away, at just €1.15 for a half-litre! And it was good, very good. They weren’t serving a full menu so we went back to the White Swan for dinner. I had a fried pork chop covered in fried bacon and onions. Typical Bavarian fare!
We wished we’d stayed in Windischeschenbach because we especially wanted to go back to Zum Posterer but would not have minded one bit going back to Neuhaus. We do plan to make a return visit to Zoigl-land, but on another part of the rotation so we get to try a few more different examples. There are three other zoigl-towns in Oberpfalz and apparently a couple in Franconia, too, so this report is merely the first of what will hopefully be a series on zoigl-tastings.
Zoigl is typical for the Oberpfalz. There are a few Kommunbrauereien (communal breweries) in Franconia. Easiest tot get to is Neuhaus an der Pegnitz, they brew a very good Märzen that is served in three places. One is open at all time.