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The Gravitational Pull of Franconia

Day 7: Forchheim
Beer Travels August 10, 2006      
Written by MartinT

Montreal, CANADA -

Handicrafts and Marie get along very well. Especially when they are all laid out around the altstadt in neat little kiosks with demonstrations given by colorful craftsmen and craftswomen themselves. The medieval blacksmith in full grey protective garb, magnetized blond hair pointing the straw roof in all directions, and massive, unshaved jaw, was attracting quite a crowd. Hammering away on his iron poles right in front of a building that looked the same age as his art, he commended respect, no doubt. He embodied the Forchheim of old.

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Luckily, he was peaceful

Forchheim is a town south of Bamberg, easily reachable by a 20-minute train ride. Its old town center, gravitating around Hauptstrasse is picturesquely Franconian, charming, warming, and obviously an entrance point to the nearby fränkisches Schweiz region, if you pay attention to architecture at all. Moreover for the beer traveller, Forchheim is the bed of 4 breweries, and the marvelous Kellerwald, where over 20 beer kellers can be found, representing a little less than 10 breweries, when all are in operation. No need to travel to adjoining villages when you are in Forchheim!

In fact, to visit 3 of the 4 town breweries, you don’t even have to walk more than 50 meters. Painful, really. All on the same side of the street, in a row,are Brauerei Neder, a flower shop, Brauerei Hebendanz, another store, and Brauerei Greif. To not strain ourselves, we enter the first brewery: Brauerei Neder. As soon as we open the door, half of the full room turns around to stare at us. This place is packed with locals, very loud, and terribly smoky. This is a man’s world. One sitting near us has crevasses instead of wrinkles. He smiles to us awfully. Another hasn’t clipped (or cleaned) his nails for months. He slowly lifts his cigarette exhibiting his demonly claws to all who dare look in his direction. One right next to us seems to be taunting the waitresss, who’s dressed so extravagantly 80’s, she looks like the most surreal pastel clown. The whole room hears him. These, and a host of 40 other characters, all take massive gulps from their personal krugs. They must down their pints in a matter of minutes. I looked at the board, and knew what I wanted immediately: the Kellerbier. After all, that Franconian style is one of the reasons I am here. Marie has the Schwarze Anna, she had been longing for a decent dunkel or schwarzbier for a while. The Kellerbier offers balanced herbal hops, and a creamy, full malt body. Another very drinkable lager, with medium bitterness, orangey fruitiness, and leafy hop flavors. You wouldn’t expect less from a Franconian brewer. The Schwarze Anna is of the same quality, superb body with perfect, smooth carbonation, beautifully extracted maltiness suggesting molasses and roastiness, simply rich and satisfying. No wonder everyone’s drinking so much!

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Believe it or not, there are 3 breweries in this picture

The walls are painted with various European scenes, miniature replicas of boiling tanks serve as lampshades, and various tall plants adorn the windowsill at Brauerei Neder. These would be considered frills at Brauerei Hebendanz. Although the façade of this the center of the 3 neighbourly breweries is much more attractive with its criss-crossing wooden boards set on a white background and Swiss-style triangle roof, everything we got inside was blander and less charismatic than Neder. The food menu (that day maybe) was written by hand on the back of an invoice. The young waiter was running madly all around trying to serve everyone as best as he could, but in the process stressed everybody out. The food we got lacked inspiration (to be polite), and the Helles Export, a deep golden lager with discreet honeyed maltiness and barely supporting hops, failed to sustain the quality level imposed by Neder today. Its saving charm was that it was served from the gravity cask. But that doesn’t make a beer great. The Stammtisch was as lively as ever though, reinforcing the impression that it must take many a pint of loyalty to deserve a chair at those corner tables. Oh yeah, to pee (in the men’s bathroom, mind you), you have to aim for a canal on the floor which will lead your liquids to a drain in the corner of the urinal room. Ah, authenticity…

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The façade of Brauerei Hebendanz

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A gravity cask - always a pleasant sight

I had a bottle to bring back home from Brauerei Greif a few steps away, so we skipped it in favor of more enticing prospects: the Kellerwald. Situated on a steep hill a couple kilometers northeast of the altstadt, the “forest of cellars” is exactly what it advertises: a forest which holds over 20 (yes, that’s right), 20 kellers, each serving beer from regional breweries. While many serve beers from bigger Wolfshöhe, each Forchheim brewery has at least 1 keller that serves their products, and breweries St.Georgenbräu of Buttenheim, Löwenbräu of Buttenheim, and Krug of Breitenlesau, also have a keller to represent them. Hoffmann Keller, which serves Brauerei Krug beers, was closed that day, so we stopped at Rappenkeller, purveyor of Löwenbräu beers (not the Munich Löwenbräu, don’t worry). A large wooden sign above the keller gaststätte vaunted the merits of Löwenbräu’s Ungespundetes Lagerbier vom Fäss. And oh, what a wonderful pint it was. Dry, wooden, herbal hops blooming through the foam-covered krug. Full-bodied maltiness and creamy carbonation for an oh so delicious mouthfeel. Herbal, citrusy hop flavors prolonged into a crunchy hop bitterness. No distinctive features here, but this was your quintessential landbier, in all of its flavorful and quenching glory. Everything it did, it did right. I was in rapture, and declined the offer to try other kellers. Sometimes there are moments when beer tasting has to step aside. That’s when simple enjoyment takes over. The majority of Franconian lagers I had on this intense 7-day trip deserve this honest and pure experience. I have never encountered so many rich and quaffing beers in a same area. My mind is now a beer-travelling satellite of Franconia. It has me in its gravitational pull. Ein mehr Landbier bitte!

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Rappenkeller, purveyors of splendid Löwenbräu Buttenheim beer

Beer of the day: Löwenbräu Ungespundetes Lagerbier



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start quote He slowly lifts his cigarette exhibiting his demonly claws to all who dare look in his direction. One right next to us seems to be taunting the waitresss, who’s dressed so extravagantly 80’s, she looks like the most surreal pastel clown. end quote