The Gravitational Pull of Franconia - Day 5
Café Abseits, Herrnsdorf, and Sambach
July 20, 2006
Written by MartinT
As we sat down at the modern Café Abseits, it started to snow flower petals. White flower petals. A lovely day was to begin. Situated a few streets behind Bamberg’s train station, so quite a walk from the altstadt, this oddly-located bistro would normally not attract any attention in a Bamberg travel report. Unless, that is, this travel report happens to be somewhat beer-oriented. ;) For this café purportedly sports the longest regional beer list of any bar in Franconia, over 60 beers, most in bottles, with 4 to 6 from the tap. You’d be hard pressed to find one you’ve never tried before, or one of your German favorites (Aventinus Weizen-Eisbock, Kulmbacher Eisbock, Andechs Dunkel, etc). We went for some taps first, Mönchsambacher Lager (from Brauerei Zehendner in Mönchsambach), and Huppendorfer Vollbier (from Brauerei Grasser in Huppendorf). Mönchsambacher Lager suggested decorous citrusy fruitiness amidst fresh cereal and hay aplenty. An able, supporting herbal hop bitterness followed the rich and drinkable cereal infusion. If more “house blonds” were like this, I’d be in heaven. Sadly, the Huppendorfer Völlbier was not in fine form, with lots of diacetyl laid out on the biscuity maltiness. I could feel a well-structured lager, but something was amiss. My first off beer of the trip. I quickly washed away all morose thoughts with a bottle of Griess Kellerbier, which was one of my most anticipated beers of the trip. And it delivered. Authentic, bright, herbal, and flowery hop perfumes pervaded the krug, yet never overpowered the moment. Portentous yet civilized floral, grassy hop flavors bathed in ample but pillowy effervescence. Hop complexity at its best. A true session lager for hop heads, carefully crafted and ripe with life. And more than enough to make me regret not being able to get to Geisfeld, where the brewery and its keller are located, on Saturday. Next time, Geisfeld is a must.
Our train was due in about 30 minutes, so we walked out in the howling winds and petal storm to the bahnhof. Our destination, by bus, was Herrnsdorf, home of Brauerei Barnikel. This brewery has been run by the same family since 1366. 1366!! It boggles the mind. It is there that we would meet Nick B. (our pal from the Franconian Beer Board) once again, and try these time-tested recipes. The Gaststätte was empty when we got in, which made for a very meditative tasting. We were, after all, at the beginning of the afternoon, in the middle of the countryside, on a work day. Surprising they were even open. But we had done our homework, and knew we wouldn’t bump our noses on the front door. Nick was waiting for us at the bus stop, and sure enough, if he hadn’t been there we would’ve walked up the wrong street. Herrnsdorf has about 2 real streets, so that would’ve been quite a feat. The only beer on tap was the basic Lagerbier (not surprising), but they also had the Dunkel and the Rauchzart from the bottle, the latter being our main purpose for choosing this brewery among the couple hundred in the region. The Lagerbier was a worrisome opening, giving off diacetyl wafts over bready malts. Luckily, the levels of overt butterscotchiness weren’t too high (for me), and French toast allusions and puréed bananas were quickly found in a rather lean body. Still, far from the Mönchsambacher we had had earlier. Marie opened the Dunkel, only to blurt out unpleasantries. Uh-oh. Fruity tartness is perceivable through the nose alone, this is a little scary. Vinegary marinades swim amongst the caramel malt and roastiness; this is a wreck. Let’s forget about this one. Thankfully, the Rauchzart is better. Not that there was much competition. A healthy smoke caresses the roastiness and caramel malt. Subtle berries appeared once in a while, but so did butterscotch. There is much more going on here than the previous two, so maybe the low-level diacetyl gets better hidden. It isn’t a bad beer, but you can tell the recipe could be better executed. Are we in the presence of a new brewer here, learning the trade, or in that of an old brewer, worn out and careless? Either way, Barnikel wasn’t up to expectations, by miles.
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Midday at Brauerei Barnikel
If you travel 3 or 4 kilometers from Herrnsdorf, in just about any direction, you’re bound to hit another brewery. We chose west, and Brauerei Hennemann, in Sambach. Tractors passed us frequently. And not the latest models too, you can imagine. Just like Herrnsdorf, Sambach has no street names, just haus numbers. But the brewery is hard to miss as its right in the heart of the village. We enter the brewery Gaststätte to the sound of “Like A Rhinestone Cowboy”. Sweet. And another turn-of-the-century tractor barks on by. Hennemann has 2 beers, both from the tap. Both the Zwicklbier and the Lagerbier are all about the malt, a sensual, beautifully extracted malt. Toasty, caramel maltiness forming a luscious body following up perfectly into supporting grassy hop bitterness. The nose suggests crème brûlée. All in all, a huggable and very drinkable setting. Which beer am I talking about here you say? Both of them! Their Zwicklbier and Lagerbier are remarkably similar! We had them side by side, and had to delve into deep analysis to find differences. Nick’s competent handle of the German language allowed him to ask a few questions to the person in charge of the brewery at that moment, and got the response we needed. They were two entirely different recipes. Let’s say “entirely” is used pretty loosely here. What matters though is that both beers were splendid, and I did prefer the Lagerbier slightly for its finish which involved both straw-like dryness and grassy hop bitterness. A solid brewery this is. They have a small beverage shop in the back of the brewery, where you can buy their beer in swing-top bottles, as well as Brauerei Rittmayer’s Weissbier.
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Can we go in and get a beer now?
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Nick B. and I at Brauerei Hennemann
As the day ended, Nick confessed that he had never been to Café Abseits in Bamberg. Amazing. So, obviously, we had to go back this evening to have dinner! Becky, Nick’s wife, joined us, and we perused through Café Abseits’ extensive food menu, which strayed from the usual German or Franconian fare, while discussing linguistics and cultural differences. The salads were enormous, and very tasty. Nick ordered the Huppendorfer Völlbier, and of course (to prove me wrong), this sample was devoid of diacetyl. New keg? Different batch? Its wonderfully silky body exhibited quality maltiness and cushiony drinkability. I was trying Felsentrunk, a lightly-smoked lager from Brauerei Hartmann in Würgau. I had had their Pils earlier in the week, which was competently crafted, and this one promised the same with its übercleanliness and soft mouthfeel. The rauch character was practically non-existent though, leaving the way for simple caramel sweetness and subtle peachy fruitiness. Okay, but easy. The Rossdorfer Urbräu I had next, from Brauerei Sauer in Rossdorf am Forst, was a very pleasant kellerbier, blooming with the herbal hop aroma endemic to the style, proposing earthy and grassy hop bitterness in another soft, maturely carbonated body. Nick finished with the Griess Kellerbier I had told him about, and he agreed. This is a masterful kellerbier. Anyone knows of direct flights from Montreal to Geisfeld?
Beer of the day: Griess Kellerbier
Other brushes with excellence: Mönchsambacher Lager, and Hennemann Lagerbier
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