<P>Franconia in the north of Bavaria, in the neighborhood of Bamberg and Bayreuth is scattered with breweries. Beerguru Michael Jackson is claiming that there are more than 100 in a circle with a diametre of 30 miles around Bamberg. That is not exaggerated, although an awful lot of small breweries have closed down in the last 20 years or so. But in recent years I have visited close to a hundred breweries in that region. Hereby some highlights.
<P>Franconia is a bit of an old-fashioned region, especially in the villages. You will find old petty farmers in the middle of villages, looking after their cattle and their crops. Most breweries are very small and cater for their village only. Most own a Gasthof (pub where you can usually eat the local food and sometimes sleep) and serve their beer there from tap, together with the local food for low prices. You can eat well and have two pints of the local beer for around $ 15,- or even less. Not all the brewers bottle, and when they do, they deliver door to door in their village with old and rusty small trucks. Most brewers are very friendly and will sell you one bottle of every beer they brew if you ask for it. I speak German reasonably well, but the local lingo is hard to understand.
<P>For instance Brauerei Fössel in Appendorf. A very small brewery with a Gasthof on the other side of the road, where elderly locals had their beer. They only had their own helles on tap for 1,50 euros per half litre. If you want a bottle, you get pils or weizenbier from Wagnerbräu in Kemmern, a slightly less smaller brewery some miles away. I have visited the brewery a year ago, in may. The brewer had sadly passed away some weeks before, so the future of this tiny brewery is in some doubt.
<P>Also not to be missed is Brauerei Eller in Birkach. Located in the centre of a tiny village, next to a farm. Not surprisingly, the Eller Helles I had from tap had a strong barnyard smell. It was the end of the morning, and inside were some road workers, enjoying their early lunch with some beers.
<P>I have visited Drügendorf. The village, consisting of one large street with some widely scattered houses had two breweries. One brewer, Först was still operating and the brewer gladly sold me his beers, the other, Kohlmann, had beautifully polished copper kettles but the brewery had closed recently, an elderly woman told me in the old fashioned Gasthaus.
<P>I have spend the night in Ebermannstadt. The hotel where I slept was a brewery until the mid-fifties, but there were still two breweries left, in fact located opposite to each other. Schwanenbräu was the more posh of the two. Brauerei Gasthof Sonne had the best food. The beers they had were a bit average, but quite enjoyable in the evening sun.
<P>A minor classic is the Kommunbrauhaus (Communal Brewery) in Falkenberg. Every inhabitant in this tiny village is allowed to brew his beer there, take it home and sell it to other people. The Kommunbrauhaus is located at the foot of a hill, with a medieval castle on the hill. A beautiful view, worth alone the journey. Sadly, it was the wrong day for beer tasting. All the Ausschanks in Falkenberg were closed for the day.
<P>Kathi-Bräu in Heckenhof is a paradise for bikers. Hundreds of them had parked their motorbikes on the parking lot and were occupying the terrace of the brewery tap and enjoying their Dunkels.
<P>Brauerei Stöckel in Hintergereuth is maybe the remotest of all Franconian breweries. Just a single road was leading to the tiny village. Surprisingly, the brewery was quite large and obviously had known more busy days. An toothless elderly lady, wearing an old-fashioned apron over her flowered dress was kind enough to sell me a bottle of every Stöckel beer that was available.
<P>Bierbrauerei Hösl in Irchenrieth was in such a battered state, that it seemed to have closed down some years ago. But it wasn’t. After a few minutes the young brewer arrived on his bicycle and sold me his beers. They were among the best I have tasted from Franconia.
<P>Also badly in need of maintenance was Brauerei-Gasthof Mauth in Mühlbühl. The brewery probably wasn’t used for some weeks, but the Gasthof still had Mauth helles on the card. Sadly, I couldn’t taste it, because the Gasthof was closed for the day. I would be surprised if the brewery was still there in five years or so…
<P>There is so much to explore in and especially around Bamberg. I will go again in a few days and there are still many breweries on my travelling list. If you visit Bamberg (recommended!), make sure to go to the countryside and make a grand tour through all the tiny villages. Most of them have a brewery, some have even more than one.