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Franconian beer

Posted in Personal, Beer on 2005-09-15 23:40

Beer in Franconia is something of a paradox: on the one hand there is a great profusion of breweries and beer styles, but on the other hand modern beer interest as found in other countries seems completely absent. This makes tasting beer in Franconia more of a challenge than in many other places, but also more rewarding.

Specialist beer pubs are quite common in Franconia, but usually this means either a brewery pub, or it means a place that arranges beer tastings. In two weeks in Franconia where we actively sought out beer places we found only one place that had more than 10 beers. Nearly all pubs are dedicated to one brewery, and will only stock beers from that brewery, and breweries acquired by it. Usually, this will be either a national brewer, or one that is quite local.

"Hops and malts, God bless"

This means that if you want to taste beer in Franconia you have to keep moving. (This is one part of the challenge.) In each city or town you can only find a few beers, and once you've tasted those it's pretty much time to move on. Which is, in part, why we decided to do our holiday on bicycle. This meant we could get some exercise after all that beer, and we could stay on the move even after a beer or two. In addition, the distances aren't so big, and you see a lot more of the landscape on a bicycle.

One thing beer lovers should be aware of is that although most German beer is good, or even excellent, German brewers generally aim for subtle and understated beers. Most German beers are meant to be drinkable, and to not taste too much. This means that huge taste-bombs like you often find in Belgium or in modern craft breweries are very rare in Germany. So at the outset it's important to be prepared for beers that are mild, and where you have to really concentrate to catch all the flavour. Once you are prepared for that, however, there is a lot to discover. And, of course, there is the occasional surprise.

Another thing that may be a little unusual is that Franconians seem to have no understanding of beer specialties. The general expectation is that once you (the visitor) have found a beer you like, you will keep drinking that one beer. This is the opposite of modern places that cater to beer lovers (outside of Germany, that is), where the waiter will look twice at you if you try a beer you've had before.

What Franconians do understand, however, is the concept of a beer type. Most Norwegians, by comparison, have no idea what a beer type is. In most cases they would be unable to tell you the difference between pilsener and beer, and they are mostly only vaguely aware that there exist beers which are not pale yellow and clear. If you press them, maybe they recall that, oh, yes, there is Guinness and other strange "English" beers. Not so in Franconia, where everyone is perfectly well aware of what a Weizen is, how it differs from Bock, and a Dunkel, etc.

Another thing Franconians care about is the quality of the beer, which, again, to them means that it has to be drinkable in large quantities, and, of course, just plain good. Lots of Franconians will volunteer an opinion on a beer, or recommend a specific beer. However, if you express an interest in trying something like Kulminator 28 people will be worried, and try to make it clear to you (the foreigner) that this dangerous stuff, and not something you can drink a lot of, etc etc

One thing that is very nice, however, is all the local breweries that are either brewpubs or even brewery inns. A brewery inn is quite simply a hotel with its own little brewery (and sometimes not so little, either). These are very common in Franconia, and are usually a great idea. They are nicer, friendlier, and cheaper than normal hotels, and, of course, there's a very short distance from the tasting room to bed, which can be quite handy. This is so common in Germany, in fact, that the brewery inns have their own organization and web site.

Brewery inn Drei Kronen, Memmelsdorf

Another thing that may surprise the visitor about the Franconian attitude to beer is that it can be very relaxed. Most places you'll find "radler" as one of the beers. The name means "bikerider", and is a mix of lemon-lime soda and beer. (BeerAdvocate has the story behind this abomination.) Franconians think this is perfectly fine, and will not hesitate to serve you Colaweizen, either. (Yes, it is a mix of coke and weizen. The taste is, uh, interesting, kind of like chewing gum.)

Another aspect of the relaxed attitude towards beer is that people drink a lot of it. When checking out of a brewery inn at 1030 in the morning there will always be a number of people in the brewery pub already, working on their pints of lager. Having a beer for lunch is also very common. In Norway both of these things would be sufficiently unusual to excite comments from waiters and passersby alike. Not so in Franconia.

I think that's enough generalities for now. I have much more to say about beer in Franconia, but will return to it in more focused postings. If there's anything in particular you're want to hear about, feel free to drop me a comment, and I'll see what I can do.







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