Thursday, 29 July 2010

Return to Munich

We made a brief stop over in Munich on our way back from Bamberg last month. Whilst the logical thing would have been to fly in and out of Nuremberg, It worked out considerably cheaper to fly Easy Jet to Munich. Then, making full use of the good old Bayern Ticket (rail travel for up to 5 people throughout the state of Bavaria, for only 30 Euros), we were able to travel by train to Bamberg. It was a journey of over 3 hours, and involved changing trains at Nuremberg. It didn't matter though, as our schedule allowed plenty of time for this, and on the return journey we arrived in the Bavarian capital with a whole afternoon free.

If we thought it had been hot in Bamberg, then Munich was doubly so. We perhaps got an inking of this when we changed on to the Regional Express in Nuremberg, but being transported in comfort, in an air-conditioned train gives one a false sense of what the temperatures are really like outside, and when we alighted from the train at Muenchen Hauptbahnhof then the heat really hit us. The first thing we did was to deposit our cases in one of the left luggage locker. That done, we headed off towards Marienplatz through the sweltering heat.

My son wanted a look round Saturn, a large electrical retailer just off Marienplatz. Fortunately it was air-conditioned in the store, but after he had seen what he wanted, we exited into the baking heat, taking care to try and keep in the shade.

Our first port of call was the Hofbraeuhaus; well it's got to be done hasn't it when one's in Munich? Fortunately it wasn't too busy inside, but it was still uncomfortably warm. I was aware that the waitresses normally like to press litres (Mass) of beer onto customers, and under normal circumstances I would gladly have accepted one. However, I knew that later that evening I would be driving back from Stansted, so needed to moderate my intake. I therefore explained the situation to our waitress, and she was happy to oblige with a couple of half litres of Hofbraeu Original. Priced at 3.45 Euros each, it was a Euro more expensive than what we had been paying in Bamberg. It wasn't as tasty either as some of the beers we had been drinking in Franconia, but having said that it wasn't that bad either.

My son had wanted to eat in the Hofbraeuhaus, but I wasn't feeling terribly hungry. I find that high temperatures dull my appetite, and also I rarely eat large meals at lunchtime. I therefore persuaded him that whilst I appreciated his offer to buy me a pub lunch, hearty lumps of pork were not what I was after on what must have been one of the hottest days of the year. Instead we adjourned to a VinzenMuir outlet (basically a chain of bakers, selling filled rolls and the like) , and ordered ourselves a schintzel roll each. We sat in the shade at one of the tables outside the shop and thoroughly enjoyed what was still a substantial snack.

After that we decided a shady beer garden would be the best option to while away the rest of the afternoon. Neither of us were in the mood for sight-seeing, especially in this heat, so we boarded an S-Bahn train at Marienplatz and alighted at the Hauptbahnhof. From there we made the short walk up Arnulfstrasse to the Augustiner-Keller. There were a couple of other reasons for visiting this particular establishment; first it is close to the station and we wouldn't have to go far to retrieve our luggage. Secondly, out of the city's major breweries, Augustiner brew by far the best beer in my opinion.

The beer garden was quite busy, it was after all a Friday afternoon, but we managed to find a table in the self-service area to the rear, and were soon tucking in to a nice cool glass of Augustiner Edelstoff. We had made the right choice in coming to a beer garden; the whole area was shaded nicely by the large horse chestnut trees, and given the outside temperatures, it was relatively cool there. The Edelstoff was in top form too, dispensed straight out of a large wooden barrel. The only downside was that I had to drive later on, so had to limit my consumption. As the time moved on, more and more people started to arrive drawn, no doubt, like ourselves by wanting to escape the heat of the city and to refresh themselves with a glass or two of the excellent beer on sale.

We, unfortunately had to leave. We had a few last minute gifts to buy, and also wanted to make sure we arrived at the airport in plenty of time. After retrieving our suitcases, we caught the S-Bahn out to the airport. It was evening rush hour and the train was hot and crowded. It was a relief therefore to reach the air-conditioned comfort of the airport terminal, even though we had a bit of a wait before check-in opened.

Although it had only been a brief stop-over, it was good to spend a bit of time in Munich again. Despite its relatively high prices (certainly compared to Bamberg), I'm certain it won't be too long before we return.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Bamberg's Breweries

Many beer travellers will know that Bamberg is home to eight breweries plus a brew-pub. Until quite recently, there were nine, but regrettably Maisel Braeu, which was a substantial concern, closed a couple of years ago. There is also an occasional brewery in the form of the Brauerei Wilde Rose, which only brews around 6 times a year. As Wilde Rose beers are difficult to come by, I haven't included them in the following list.

On our recent visit to Bamberg we managed to sample all the city's beers with the exception of Kaiserdom, plus the aforementioned Wilde Rose. We were thwarted in our attempt to try Kaiserdom's beers by discovering that the brewery tap didn't open until 6pm on Mondays, and was also closed on Thursdays. We only found one pub listed in central Bamberg, as selling the company's beers, which is surprising given that Kaiserdom is the city's largest brewery. When we tracked this bar down we found it not only closed, but what seemed to be shut up for good. No matter, the products of Bamberg's other breweries more than made up for not being able to sample those of Kaiserdom.

Starting alphabetically with the brew-pub Ambraeusianum, which is a couple of doors along from the world-famous Schlenkerla pub. We sampled their Helles and their Dunkles. For me, the former was one of the best beers I tasted on the trip, and that is saying something for a region that produces some superb beers. The Helles was fresh tasting with an almost herbal hoppiness; it certainly was perfection personified. Unfortunately the same could not be said of Ambraeusianum's Dunkles, which I struggled to finish. This was a pity, as I am normally a fan of the darker beers. To find such a contrast between two beers from the same brewery is unusual, to say the least, but just goes to show how beers can vary.

Brauerei Faessla comes next in the A-Z of Bamberg breweries, and we visited their excellent brewery tap on Obere Koenigstrasse on a couple of occasions. I would be hard pushed to choose between their 4.8% Lagerbier and the slightly stronger (5%) Gold-Pils. Both were well-hopped and well-balanced beers, and served direct from wooden casks from a central dispensary. I also brought back a bottle of their Zwergla, a 6% Dark Maerzen style beer, but I haven't had the chance to sample it yet.

Moving on next to Greifenklau, which is the smallest of the city's breweries, and only available at the Brauereigasthof on Laurenziplatz. We visited this excellent establishment on both our first and last nights in Bamberg, and also once in between. Greifenklau was only a short walk from our rented apartment, and did not involve having to walk back up a steep hill! On all three occasions we sat out in the pleasant, shady beer garden at the rear, with its views across to Altenburg Castle. We found their hoppy 4.8% Lagerbier, served up in attractive stoneware mugs, to be eminently drinkable, and a perfect match for the hearty Franconian food sold at the pub.

Brauerei Keesmann is next on the list, and the company's brewery and adjoining tap are situated in the suburb of Wunderburg, which is about a 25 minute walk from the city centre. We visited Keesmann twice, sitting out on both occasions in the covered area between the rear of the pub and the brewery itself. I tried both their "Sternla" Lager, which is an unfiltered, pale, hoppy lager, and their Herren Pils, which is a very satisfying bitter beer,

Returning to the city centre, and Klosterbraeu, which is Bamberg's oldest brewery. Their brewery tap on Obere Muehlbruecke, must be one of the most attractive buildings in a city full of architectural superlatives. We ate inside on a really hot, sweltering evening, but earlier in the week we had sat outside at the attractive terrace overlooking the river. Here, I sampled their 4.8% Bamberger Gold-Pils, their slightly darker, and very drinkable, 5.7% Braunbier, (which was amber really, rather than brown), and the jewel in the crown Klosterbraeu Schwaerzla, a magnificent dark and malty lager.

Mahrs Braeu is next alphabetically, although as the brewery is virtually opposite Keesmann in Wunderburg, we first sampled their beers when we visited this part of town. We sat out in the small, shady courtyard, in front of the brewer,y that doubles up as a beer garden, and sampled the 4.9% Helles along with mine, and everybody's favourite, Mahrs Braeu Ungespundetes or "U". We also enjoyed a lunchtime meal of Bamberg sausages with Sauerkraut and bread. Mahrs Brau"U" was also on offer at the Hotel Alt Ringlein, in the centre of Bamberg, where, on a couple of evenings, we gorged ourselves on a crisp, roasted Haxe (pork knuckle) each.

That leaves two more breweries in the town, both of which produce versions of Bamberg's classic "Rauchbier" or "smoke beer". Schlenkerla (Heller Braeu Trum KG), brew Bamberg's best known and most distinctive version - the 5.1% Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Maerzen. Served direct from a wooden cask in the equally world famous Schlenkerla Tavern in Dominikanstrasse, this world classic, smoked dark lager needs little introduction to beer lovers the world over. I had sampled the beer in bottled form many times in the past, and had also had the pleasure of sampling it on draught in the Schlenkerla Tavern on a fleeting visit to Bamberg, back in 2007. We made three visits to the tavern during our stay, and even my son who, at 18 years old, is probably not the most discerning drinker in the world found the beer enjoyable. Smoke, bacon, and other smoked flavours dominate this delicious dark brown beer, which is a "must try" if you are visiting Bamberg. It is also very popular with the locals as well!

Brauerei Spezial is the final Bamberg brewery on the list, and like I mentioned earlier also produce their own version of "Rauchbier". A lot more subtle than Schlenkerla, our initial introduction to Spezial came on the second night of our stay, when we climbed up the hill to Stephansberg to visit Spezial Bier Keller. This Keller has probably the best views over the city, but such is its popularity, especially on a warm summer's evening, that it is sometimes difficult to find a seat.

The beer we sampled that evening was Spezial Rauchbierl Lager, served in stoneware mugs. As stated earlier, the smokiness was a lot less pronounced than Bamberg's better known Rauchbier producer, but it could still be tasted lurking in the background. Later in the week we visited the Zum Spezial, the brewery tap, right opposite Faessla on Obere Koenigstrasse. Here we were able to sample some of the brewery's other beers, including Spezial Rauchbier Maerzen and Spezial Ungespundetes.

I will describe the best ways of getting to Bamberg in a later post, but in the meantime I would thoroughly recommend a visit to this beautiful city in order to sample its beery delights!