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Malcolm and I booked flights with Air Berlin (a £79 return flight to Nuremberg - although a low cost carrier, they are very good!), and used the Nuremberg and Bamberg tourist offices to book hotels on line.
So, on 7 August we departed Stansted for Nuremberg. The U-Bahn (Underground) got us to the main station in 15 minutes, and a ten minute walk bought us to the hotel. Check in, dump bags and out for a beer.... Unfortunately, although we did find a couple of places open, we didn't like the look of them and retired for the night.
Friday morning was like the night had been: stiflingly hot. A 40-minute train journey took us through some rolling countryside to Bamberg, and a further 25-minute walk got us to our hotel in the centre of town. Check in, check map and head off to Schlenkerla Tavern, turn a couple of corners through some old buildings and come across the old bridge and Town hall. This is an ancient building built in the river and is beautiful. We admired the views of the cathedral and various churches, but thirst soon pushed us on and into the tavern. The building is older than the brewery, and Schlenkerla started brewing in 1678!
We enjoyed Schlenkerla Rauchbier with great gusto. This beer is fantastic when enjoyed from draught (vom Fass) especially when it is vom Holzfass (from wooden barrel!) [Yeah, yeah, just keep rubbing it in why don't you! - Ed.] We also partook of some traditional sausage and sauerkraut.
Although we didn't want to leave, we knew we would be back, so we pushed on to Fässla. This is a brew pub nearer the station. Fassla does not produce a Rauchbier, but all its beers are very good. We tried their house Lagerbier (Footnote), Marzen and Gold Pils. Unfortunately for Malc, they didn't have any Dunkel (he does like his dark beers!). Service was a bit on the slow side, but that could be because it was so hot and the middle of the afternoon.
Across the road is the Spezial brew pub. This is another old building, though not as old as Schlenkerla, and the main drinking area just has long tables, and is a real locals bar. We enjoyed their Rauchbier, which does not have the fuller flavour of Schlenkerla but is still very good in its own right. The Lagerbier is also rather good and the Ungespundete Lagerbier (not a Rauchbier, but an unfiltered Lagerbier) is excellent.
By now we were flagging in the heat, so we returned to the hotel to freshen up. Once the evening had cooled off a little bit, we headed out for the Mahr's brewery tap, which has its own beer garden. We enjoyed their Vollbier and their U (an unfiltered Lagerbier), before walking across the road to the Keesmann brewery tap for their Sternla (another unfiltered Lagerbier), which was very good. We then pushed on to the Maisel brewery tap and beer garden, arriving just as they were closing, but I think the waiter took pity on us and served us anyway. We had the Helles. A long walk back brought us past a St Georgen bar which was still open, so we stopped off for a Pils to finish off the evening.
Saturday allowed me to get to somewhere that I never thought I would: The St Georgen brewery in Buttenheim. The village itself is a 15-minute train ride back towards Nuremberg from Bamberg and then a kilometer walk up a gentle slope to the village. There is a regional bus, but it only runs every two hours in the afternoon, and originates in Bamberg. Once in the village, follow the main street to a sign for the Levi Strauss museum (that's right, there is a museum dedicated to Levi Strauss, the creater of the jeans, who was born here), the brewery then very quickly becomes apparent. The other brewery in the town is just a little further on and is another Lowenbrau, but unlike the (in)famous one in Munich, this one produces some extremely good beers.
The St Georgen brewery tap is a lovely building with a small room for eating and drinking. We had Kellerbier and Helles, before pushing on to the beer gardens: the Lowenbrau bar was just closing and putting out a sign which meant if you want a beer, go to the beer garden. The beer gardens for both breweries were a short walk out of the village and almost alongside each other. As the St Georgen wasn't opening till 15.00 we went across to the Lowenbrau, where we sat amongst shady trees and enjoyed some Kellerbier 'vom Holzfass' and their Pils. Both beers were the cheapest of the trip at 1 euro 60 (about £1.20) for a half litre!
At 3 o'clock we walked across to the St Georgen beer garden. This was up a short climb, but was enough to give a magnificent view over Buttenheim and the surrounding countryside. So there we were drinking St Georgean Kellerbier 'vom Holzfass' at 1 euro 70 a half litre in 38 degrees of heat, shaded by some trees overlooking a lovely village and beautiful countryside. Sometimes things are just right with the world!
Eventually though we decided to press on back to Bamberg for the evening. We headed out for the Greifenklau bar and beer garden, as we still had the beer garden bug. Unfortunately it was absolutely heaving as there was some sort of church festival taking place, and there was a fair in the street outside. We aborted the mission here and headed off for the Spezial beer garden. We had to go down one hill and up another, but eventually found the beer garden off the Stephansberg, passing the Schlenkerla brewery on the way.
The place is extremely popular, but we found somewhere to sit eventually, enjoying some Spezial Rauchbier, and we had an interesting chat with a local who taught chemistry in a local school. Then as time was flying by, and the beer garden was closing, we headed down to the Alt-Ringlein where we succumbed to some more Schlenkerla Rauchbier before it closed. A short walk down the street bought us to Weinstube Pizzini, very much a locals bar, with a very helpful old lady serving, so we enjoyed some Andechs Dunkel before heading back to the hotel.
On Sunday we decided to head out for a village or two again, so we took a 15-minute bus ride to the village of Memmelsdorf. Our first port of call was the Drei Kronen (Three Crowns), a rather upmarket place, which is a guesthouse as well as a brewery. We enjoyed some Stoffla, which is a cross between a Rauchbier and a Kellerbier - very nice and very interesting. We then tried their unfiltered Pils, which seemed more like a Weisse bier, and their Lagerbier, which tasted slightly of banana!
After this we walked down the road to Hohn and tried their Spezial, which was quite interesting. We wanted to try their beer garden, but it didn't open till 3 o'clock. We had just missed the bus so we decided to walk the 2km to Drosendorf and the Goller bar, where we enjoyed their unfiltered Lagerbier. A band set up and they were very enjoyable, but eventually we headed back to Bamberg. We then headed out to the Michaelsberg, an old Benedictine abbey - and the local brewery's bar and cafe. Unfortunately the bar is closed, and has been for a few months. The cafe is still open, although the beer now appears to be Mahr's rather than Maisel, but it is selling the Benediktiner Dunkel which we enjoyed along with the view over Bamberg.
We then decided to go back to Schlenkerla, but we'd only had a couple of beers when they decided to close early - oh no! So we headed round to the Klosterbrau and enjoyed some of their Dunkel and Braun beers before they too closed.
Not wanting to head off to bed yet as it was still too hot, we settled in a bar called Hofbrau nearby the old bridge, which was selling Schlenkerla, to end the evening.
Monday we had to head back to the UK, so we went for a last wander round Bamberg before settling into the Schlenkerla to enjoy a couple of last Rauchbiers before heading back to Nuremberg. Here we had some time, so we went looking for one of the four Landbier Paradise bars, but found that this didn't open till 5.00. So a very short U-Bahn journey found us in the Lederer bar and beer garden, where we enjoyed a Lederer Pils and a Tucher Dunkel Heffe Weisse. Then a problem with the U- Bahn to the airport nearly made us miss our flight - so it doesn't happen only in the UK!
The Bamberg area is extremely beautiful, friendly and helpful, although you do need a bit of German especially if you are going out to the villages. It is a very relaxed area so sometimes you need patience and a good map, but I would recommend it whole heartedly. John Conen's guide, available via CAMRA, is invaluable.
We are definitely going back: we didn't get to do half of what we wanted, because of the heat and the relaxed atmosphere.
The Lambic Monster