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Oakes Weekly - July 23, 2009

Beck-Brau in Trabelsdorf - Updating the Traditional
Brewers/Industry July 23, 2009      
Written by Oakes

Richmond, CANADA -

Most fans of Franconian beer culture have probably at some point wondered how these little village breweries sustain themselves. Some, such as Barnikel in Herrnsdorf or Heckel in Waischenfeld seem to be planted firmly in the 19th century, existing simply because they always have. Their proprietors have seemingly always owned them, and the denizens of the village have always drank their beers, and the business probably putters along today as it has for centuries. Many of these establishments follow the medieval tavern model, with guestrooms, restaurant and sometimes a butchery as well.

Yet other businesses are more modern in their take. Those who have been to the rather unfortunate Ambrausianum that sits two doors down from Schlenkerla and in its banal modernity is completely at odds with its ancient, evocative neighbour will cringe at the use of the word modern in the context of Franconian beer, but not all updates are necessarily a bad thing. The theory of creative destruction holds that all things must in time either replace outmoded traits with more viable ones, or simply pass into history to be replaced something more up-to-date.

One village brewpub that has clearly embraced this notion of positive change is Beck-Bräu, located in the village of Trabelsdorf, ten kilometres or so as the crow flies southwest from Bamberg. A visit to Trabelsdorf can be made by bicycle (albeit not easily given the 18 percent grade hill one must climb to get there from the Kundmüller brewery in Weiher, at which you will of course want to stop along the way. You can also take the bus no. 8224, which can be used to visit brewpubs in Debring, Priesendorf, Ampferbach, Schönbrunn and a few other villages as well.

Previously owned by one Herr Beck, the brewery was purchased in 2007 by Andreas and Manuela Gänstaller. Herr Gänstaller was formerly under the employ of Mahr’s Bräu in Bamberg, famous for its Ungespundets and its export presence in America. In North America, we find that breweries located within the city of Bamberg are far more famous, receiving coverage in the beer press and attention from importers. In a way, this is just as well, since the dozens of wonderful breweries in the area mainly feature kellerbier from the gravity tap, and this is not a style that lends itself well to export markets.

Since taking over Beck-Bräu, however, Herr Gänstaller has actively courted export markets, and his beers have appeared at some very famous beer pubs such as In de Wildeman in Amsterdam and Ma Che Siete in Rome. The beers that he inherited from Herr Beck are for the most part the same beers he makes today, albeit with a handful of very notable exceptions.

On a visit arranged by DerDoppelbock, we had occasion to sampled a pair of beers that Beck now brews for Ma Che Siete. The first was a highly unique take on a doppelbock, dubbed Beckator. This 8.7% alcohol brew does have a doppelbock’s malt chewiness, but it is hopped like no other doppelbock I’ve ever tasted. The bittering comes from Hersbrucker hops and is quite rich. The aroma comes from Spalter Select and is very spicy and maybe a little bit herbal as well. The hop punch of the beer is one unusual aspect and the assertive yeastiness is the other. The yeast helps to round out a palate that would otherwise remind one more of an American barley wine than anything else. As result, the beer has appetizing bitterness, rich malt complexity and yet also a roundness and smoothness of character.

The second beer, which by virtue of its lack of existence on Ratebeer tells me that it perhaps has yet to see release at Ma Che Siete, is Affumicator. The concept was simple, initially. Manuele, the owner at the Italian bar, wanted to have a smoked bock beer of his own. His friend Andreas volunteered for the effort, and Manuele simply instructed him to make one “different from Schlenkerla Urbock”. Andreas whipped up an example on his pilot brewery and it met with significant praise.

Affumicator is a big brew, starting at 23.4P and finishing at 9.6% alcohol by volume. It is made with an incredible 95% smoked malt, far more than most area rauchbiers. As requested, Affumicator is night-and-day different than Schlenkerla Urbock. The smoke is incredibly intense, featuring a lot of campfire char, a quality that sticks to your tongue for minutes after each sip. Layers of malt complexity unveil themselves and the earthy, smokey malts are full of caramels and toffees. It finishes with a blast of smoke intense enough to intimidate even a devoted smoke whore such as myself. Affumicator is one of the best smoked beers I have ever encountered.

Not that you’ll be able to find it at Beck-Bräu, it is simply for export. One of the first things Andreas did after taking over the brewery was to start to build the market. The local brewers at that time were typically at odds with one another. Acrimonious relationships are not uncommon when a beer market is potentially oversaturated. I’ve seen this happen time and again in Canada, where brewers fight each other rather than cooperate and differentiate. It’s sad, and Franconian beer culture has no need of that. Andreas visited his local breweries and began to build bridges. Now he helps to develop export markets for not only his own products, but the excellent products of the Kundmüller brewery on the other side of the hill. Hopefully other local brewers follow suit. You have a much better chance of finding Beckator and Affumicator at Ma Che Siete than you do in Trabelsdorf, although if bottling occurs (as it might) the product may find its way to the finer Scandinavian beer bars sooner rather than later.

Another unique beer made by Beck-Bräu is their Zoigl. This beer is not a true zoigl, but is born of that tradition. It is served from the wooden barrel by gravity, but only on Tuesday nights. Why Tuesday? Well, when the Gänstallers purchased the brewery, that is all they purchased. The pub is still owned by Herr Beck and he opens on the other days. He, therefore, does not have the Zoigl.

There are couple of more great reasons to make Tuesday the day to visit Trabelsdorf. The room that the Gänstallers use for their weekly pub is beautiful. Fully remodeled as an oversized Franconian living room, it contains an exhibit of ancient bottling equipment that has been restored for display. Moreover, tours of the brewery and its cellars are available. The keller is underground and has been filled with wooden barrels, including one 3500L behemoth, to show how beer was lagered in the old days. Other features are a hop storage room and equipment that was used to collect ice from a nearby pond in winter to keep the cellars cool all summer.

If special beer and a great historical brewing display were not sufficient to compel a Tuesday visit, the food will. Manuela Gänstaller has created an ever-changing menu of beer cuisine for the Tuesday opening. The food is all-natural and local, and beer is incorporated into each of the dishes. We happened to be riding past on the first night of the pub’s opening and we were blown away. Yes, we were already starving but the menu was so good it compelled us to order things we don’t normally order. I got the schnitzel and Sun ordered chicken, something that never happens. When the chicken didn’t pan out, she got a wurstsalat, again not even close to the usual choice. Both dishes were outstanding. There’s a lot of good food around, but German food can be a little samey, so when something stands out (like Schlenkerla’s bierhaxen) it really stands out. Beer cuisine is something of an anomaly here, so a full menu of creative, beer-drenched interpretations of German classics is something worth shouting from the rooftops about.

There is little doubt that riding around the Franconian countryside visiting village brewpubs is an exceptionally romantic endeavour, for those who have any appreciation for beer culture and beer history. The Gänstallers understand that fully, but they also understand that there is only so much future in clinging to the old ways. They are building a business based around creative interpretation of the classics. Their beer cuisine menu, the experience of their brewery premises, and of course their ability to make classic Franconian beers with a modern touch that still feel like classic Franconian beers puts them as one of the Bamberg areas must see brewery experiences. And when in Rome, forget what the Romans do and make sure you check out the Beckator and Affumicator at Ma Che Siete.



ToddA says:

Nice story Josh. I love to visit Franconia and appreciate when others do as well. Thanks for raising the awareness of this often dismissed part of the beer world. ToddA

166 months ago
mdi says:

hmmm...Shelton Brothers just imported a small amount of the Beck Bock beer in bottles (not the ones mentioned above, though), along with a number of other Franconian bocks...and gravity kegs will be arriving soon too. Thanks for helping raise awareness about the wonder that is Franconia, Josh!

166 months ago
porterhouse says:

Those two Beck-Bräu beers sound great. Would be nice if they are bottled someday!

166 months ago
yngwie says:

Thx for making my longing back to Franken even stronger!

166 months ago
Chap says:

At least one Beck beer is on tap at the Wildeman in July/August/September, plus bottles - currently Zwickl Pils and Kellerbier are on draft, and others are on their way! It seems that Andreas has that rare combination of great brewing skills and a head for business.

166 months ago
douglas88 says:

These articles are awesome. Great job.

166 months ago
Oakes says:

Well, we saw the brewery and there was definitely beer fermenting in the tanks. Just goes to show that some of the local brewers still view everybody else as a threat. The little guys aren't the problem. Oettinger, Tucher and those types of brewers are the problem.

166 months ago
pivnizub says:

Nasty rumours say (one -maybe jealous - brewer from a village 15 kilometers away told us) that all the beers from Beck are brewed at the Göller Brauerei in Zeil am Main......?!?!

166 months ago
omhper says:

Beck Bräu has always 1-2 taps on at Akkurat in Stockholm as well. Great brewery!

166 months ago
JorisPPattyn says:

Ayee. I desperately want to be reborn as a Franconian... Great article, Josh.

166 months ago
bierkoning says:

What a lovely story. I visited Becks before 2007 and I'm glad to read that things have turned for the better now.

166 months ago
tipsytoad says:

Good stuff, I have been to Bamberg each year for 3 years and have managed to visit some 140 of the breweries in the Franconia region (I have friends who drive). Although I went through Trabelsdorf it was closed but such is the bane of the Franconian beer tourist as it is so difficult to make a good plan where all breweries are open. I have had Beck recently in Rome and they do bottle, nice drop.

166 months ago
Beershine says:

Beautiful descriptions of a very special place! Thanks again to DerDoppelbock for hooking us up.

166 months ago

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start quote The smoke is incredibly intense, featuring a lot of campfire char, a quality that sticks to your tongue for minutes after each sip. Layers of malt complexity unveil themselves and the earthy, smokey malts are full of caramels and toffees. end quote