Ein Bier Bitte?
I’ve been brewing professionally at the brewpub level for close to 15 years. Right now, I call FiftyFifty Brewing Company in Truckee, Calif., my home. Although FiftyFifty is a small brewery, my brother Kyle and I are pretty busy all year-round, and Truckee is a great place to live and work. When the snow starts to fall, Truckee fills up with skiers, snowboarders and winter sports enthusiasts from across the country. So, you may wonder, if you actually live in a really hot vacation spot, where do you go on vacation? For me, it’s about getting back to what got me involved in brewing in the first place, and what keeps my passion for brewing alive.
I’ve been traveling regularly to partake of the beer in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany since 1995. In 2004, I made the decision to spend about 10 days of every year in Germany, specifically, Bavaria, and to get right to the point, the Bamberg area. Bamberg is a large city with a long brewing history. The city is home to nine breweries and two malting companies. The surrounding countryside is filled with small, family-owned breweries, and that’s why I return to this area year after year. The beers brewed in this part of Germany tend to be more robust and have a Franken character that is maltier, hoppier and more formidable than the more famous Kolsch beers of Cologne or the great wheat beers of Munich. But the number of these small breweries is slowly shrinking. One by one, these family-owned breweries are shutting down. In many cases, the next generation has chosen not to carry on the family business; in others, the cost of doing business is just too high. In a world that insists on mass-producing nearly everything, the small, independent brewer is more important than ever.
If you have never been to Europe, Bamberg is a great place to start. Travel is quite easy and inexpensive (the cost of a beer is almost twice as much in Munich). A couple of tips: Many Germans speak a bit of English, but carry a phrase book, which is helpful with the awkward moments; a car with a GPS pays off big time; and having a designated driver is mandatory, as Germany has strict drinking and driving laws. There are many Braugasthof (brewery guest houses) with rooms available, so getting comfortable in the evening with a few beers before retiring for the night isn’t anything to be worried about. Getränke markets (beverage shops) are plentiful, so stocking up before the trip back home is easy.
As a craft brewer, it’s easy to understand why these small breweries, with recipes and techniques passed down from generation to generation, are an important part of brewing history. In Franconia, the area surrouding Bamberg, there are roughly 300 breweries. So I’ve made it to about 100 of these breweries so far, and I guess I’ll keep going until I’ve raised a glass at every last one of them.
Here are a few travel resources to get you started.
– Brauns Brauerei Atlas 1. & 2. Mittelfranken und südliches Oberfranken by Boris Braun
– Good Beer Guide Germany by Steve Thomas
I’m sitting in my room at the Drei Kronen in Memmelsdorf as I write this. I’ve been here in the Bamberg area for a week now. I’ve enjoyed some wonderful beers, like the Rauch bock from Schlenkerla, Zehender Lagerbier, Will Landbier and Huppendorf Vollbier. To give this piece a very “to the point” finish, I have to say that it is very inexpensive to drink and eat here. The dollar is stronger than it has been in a while (Nov/Dec ’08) and it is going a long way right now. You can drink world-class lager for 1.90 euros per half-liter—that’s about $2.50 a pint. Sure, you have to get here to enjoy it, but it’s a welcoming destination for those willing to make the journey. Yes, Germany may not offer up much in the way of extreme beer, but it does provide a place to reflect on beer and brewing. My recommendation is to go sooner rather than later… ■