A summary by Dave Marks — our beer buyer
An ongoing theme throughout the current ten-year “craft beer” wave in the U.S. is that Americans tend to want big, bold, extreme “flavors” when it comes to beer. That’s obviously not the case for every beer-drinker, but there’s a real preponderance of breweries that are finding success in the U.S. with extreme beers.
Yet in Germany, beer is how it's always been. There, the beer is "nothing special" in the eyes of the locals, but we marveled at the flawless craft that has been carried on for so many years. For Germans, beer is engrained in their lives, their history, the nature, the agriculture. Joel and Dan Shelton have been exploring that world for a short 25 years, so they decided to launch the Shelton Brothers Insider Tours. One such tour took us to the heart of Franconia, in the small city of Bamberg, which is bolstered by its 250+ breweries and its world famous malthouse, Weyermann Malt.
We spent a lot of our time in Bamberg at Spezial's smoked beer house and Mahrs Bräu, and then every day we’d get bused out to the neighboring villages, each housing its own tiny breweries. Every beer garden had a Stammtisch, where only the regulars were allowed to sit. Playgrounds were also available at almost every brewery we visited, again confirming the importance of family in beer — and importance of beer in family.
Beer is not a collection or a checklist for Franconians; it’s the background of their lives. It’s the representation of the villages that can be traced back 200, 300, 400 years prior. It's part of dinner, social gatherings, festivals ... all as the foundation, not as the main focus. (Pictured, lower left: Franconian village of Ziegelanger)
We were quick to load our suitcases with "landbier" from Brauerei Bayer Theinheim. Tasting the Mahr's Hell at Mahrs Bräu was quite the experience. But nothing quite matched the feeling of drinking a kellerbier from the "Keller." Most of the kellers (which date back to the 1500s) were hand-carved by farmers into the stone hills of their farmland. The cellar (keller) would later house unfinished lager that would ferment at cellar-temperature for the summer months. (Pictured, upper left: Our group in one of the kellers)
Klosterbrauereri Weissenohe carried quite a bit of weight, making it one of our favorite spots on the tour. The brewery was the last of five on a trek we made over the hills of Southwest Franconia. Weissenohe Abbey and the brewery sit beside a church that dates back to the 1100s. The current owner told us the history of the 500-year-old brewery, explaining that his family had been in possession of the brewery since the early 1800s. His son Vincent, generation eight, had been working for Weissenohe since the age of 16. Vincent, now 23, is the head brewer, and shared our excitement for food and drink. At the end of the tour, he poured us some of his “California beer” with American-style hops. He asked about the Kitchen Garden Sriracha hat and shirt that we happened to be wearing. His interest in hot sauce and spice led him to start a pepper garden at home and sport a tube of Hungarian paprika on his keychain. We promised him we’d send him a care package with Mazí and Kitchen Garden hot sauce — we’ll probably include some Honest Weight, BLDG 8, and Berkshire Brewing in that package as well!
The largest quantity of beer we get from Franconia via Shelton Brothers comes from the city of Kulmbach. It was there that we experienced Kulmbacher Bierwoche, the third-largest beer festival in Germany. The lederhosen and dirndls were in full effect. The beer garden was filled with the traditional tables, just as you would find at our very own Brass Cat. There were hundreds of tables, and they were all filled with Germans that were excited to clank their steins and sing to the American pop tunes that were being played by the traditional German rock band. I danced to a Bon Jovi song that I would quickly change if it had come up on any radio station at home. I asked an enthusiastic young man that I was dancing with if he knew “Livin’ On A Prayer.” He screamed over the crowd “Yes! I know it. Let’s go up there and wish for it!” as he pointed at the stage. (Pictured, lower right: Kulmbacher brewery and our group at Kulmbach Bierwoche. Upper right: Our group getting a tour of Löwenbräu-Buttenheim)