A Friday morning in November saw myself , Malcolm, Eric and Toby dropped off at Stansted by another friend of mine who had gotten up at stupid o'clock. My thanks to him.

Air Berlin to Nuremberg this time but, unfortunately we were 20 minutes late departing due to snow on the runway at Nuremberg (uh oh!).

A very pleasant flight on an Airbus (with leather seats and breakfast - well a roll and coffee) saw us landing in Nuremberg just past 10am German time. Our other friend Matt, who was already out in Germany, met us at the airport with a Lander ticket (more on this later). He also had some bad news. There was a train strike on in Germany. The good news was that there were enough trains running to get us where we wanted to be. So metro to main station, and just in time for our train, cancelled, damn! However, all was not lost as the one an hour later was still running. We therefore popped along to Der Treffpunket Franken, which is a shop upstairs at the back of the shopping centre in the station complex. This sells bottled beers, but also allows you to drink them at a couple of tables on the balcony. Here we met up with a friend of Matt, who was joining us this weekend.

I plumped for a Lowenbrau (Buttenhiem not Munich) Helles which was excellent. The others had various Weisse, Landbier and Kellerbiers. The clock ticked round and we boarded the train and headed out to Windischeschenbach, the main place for Zoigl beer. It was just over an hour, and checking the trains, no problem getting back, so we headed into the village in the hunt for the elusive Zoigl beer.

First place we found was the actual communal brew house, which was not being used at the time. Just around the corner was Wolframstubin, which Matt has been trying to find open, and this time it was! A basic bar, selling Zoigl beer, which isn't really as they brew it themselves in their own brew plant now, but it was in the style, and it was very good. At €1.50 (£1.30 a pint) it was also a steal!

Then back around another corner to the Hotel in the centre of town. Closed for holidays, grrrr.

Looking across the road then, another building had the zoigl sign out. Called Fiedschneider, you wouldn't know it sold beer. It wasn't supposed to be open until 5 but as we stood there, people went out and people went in, so we followed suit. It was just like stepping into someone's front room. Although there weren't any tables free, we were asked to join a table with some of the locals. No hostility, just curiousness. The zoigl was damn good, so we had two!. The atmosphere was wonderful, and we could have sat there all afternoon, but we pushed on.

Next stop was an actual bar called Weiber Schwan. A little more upmarket with other beers, but they also did Zoigl. Again a good beer. With time against us we headed on to Schlosshof which had two very basic rooms, again like being in someone's house. Very clean, very nice and very good zoigl.

Last stop before heading off to get the train was Loistl, difficult to find, but we got there eventually. A quick neck of some very good zoigl, and back to the station.

I'll pause here. Zoigl beer is brewed in a communal brewhouse. Each selling place brews their own, using the same brewing equipment. The GBG to Germany lists 11 places and says that if you can find 5 open you are doing well. It also says it isn't the challenge it once was. You still have to make a concerted effort though, and a little bit of German speaking helps immensely. We got 5 in and we'd probably have done more but time and trains were against us! I'm going back though as it's a very interesting place and I'd like to try both of the other outlets and some of the smaller villages around that reputedly do their own as well. For more information try www.zoiglbier.de or www.zoigl.de

Now to the Lander ticket. All the British Railway companies should read this bit! A Lander ticket is valid on all trains except ICE, most buses and Metros. It covers the region you are in (i.e. Bavaria) and costs €29 for 5 people. Yes that's right, if there are 5 of you, its about £4 each and lasts all day. They really don't want you to use the trains in Germany obviously! So we went from the Airport to Main station, to Windischeschenback, back to Nuremberg then onto Bamberg for £4 each!

Speaking of which, after dumping our bags at the hotel in Bamberg, we headed for Schlenkerla (naturally!) for some food and some smoked beer. The Marzen was excellent as usual, but they also had Urbock on. So a pork knuckle was enjoyed along with some smoked beers. Then Schlenkerla closed (how rude!).

This was when a thought of mine turned into reality. No beer gardens open in sub zero temperature, so everyone was packed into the bars. We couldn't get a table in two bars we tried, but found some room in Kacelhofen. Some St Gerogean Kellerbier and Helles was enjoyed with great gusto. A conversation with the table next to us lead to finding out that one of these gentlemen runs his own microbrewery just outside of Barcelona. It may appear at the summer fest! After this though, we were flaking out, so back to the hotel for a good nights sleep.

Saturday dawned dull and with snow showers. After breakfast, a walk for decent coffee was in order, then we were being picked up by a German friend of a friend of Matt's who doesn't drink beer and had offered to drive a minibus of us. So eight of us set off after a little scare with the bus, they hadn't known we were using it.

In the next issue, Matt will take up the story of Saturday's adventures.

Over the past few years I have visited Bamberg a number of times and whilst I wouldn't say that I was bored with the place, I have a growing interest in getting out into the surrounding countryside and visiting the smaller breweries before they close for good, as seems to be the trend in the smaller villages. The rot has already started to set in with several closing in the last year or so, including one in a village we visited on the day.

I had made tenuous enquiries through a friend in Bamberg (Bob) as to the cost of a small 10 seater bus with a driver and was slightly shocked to find that the minimum price was over €300. Bob then suggested that he might be able to find us a driver. Sure enough a few days later he responded by e-mail saying that he had managed to acquire a driver and bus for €150 and as there were going to be 8 of us, that seemed to be a good way to spend €20, so I started the planning.

The area south and west of Bamberg is a hilly region called the Steigerwald, and there are a group of 10 brewpubs northwest of Bamberg around Trossenfurt that just lie in the north of the area, that I had not visited or tried the beers from, so that was the area I decided to concentrate on.

We met on a damp and chilly Saturday morning in November in Bamberg. I was picked up having started the day in Mahrs follwed by Keesman, at 1030 and we picked everyone else up at the ZOB (Central bus station). No one else seemed to have the stomach for an early start after the previous evening imbibings. In all there were 8 of us plus Stefan the driver. After an initial scare when Bob went to pick up the bus and the company had no knowledge of the booking, which was sorted out without too much delay, we were off.

<- Adler Brau, Stettfeld.
First stop was Stettfeld on the north bank of the Main and a visit to Adler Brauerei. Whilst not technically in Steigerwald, it made sense as it was on the main road from Bamberg to Ebelsbach, where the assault on the hills was to start. The pub was empty when we arrived but open which was a relief. The beer was excellent including a very good Bock, and a superb dark Altfrankisches Lager. I had planned for 40 minutes in each pub and that seemed to be about right judging by the first stop.

<- Brauerei, Zenglein, Oberschleichach.
Back in the bus, the driver, Stefan (who was not a beer drinker luckily for us) took us north towards Ebelsbach and then turned west over the Main and up into the hills. The second stop of the day was at Brauerei Zenglein in Oberschleichach. After piling out of the bus and taking what was to become the obligatory photo of the outside of the building, we sat down in the bar for an other excellent selection of beers. We managed between us to try all 3 on offer; a Pils, a Zwickel and a very nice Bock. We found that be passing the glasses around we were all able to try each of the beers.

Back in the bus, we were disappointed to find that the third stop at Brauerei Lowenbrau Neeb in Unterschleichach, was not possible as the pub had very recently ceased trading. It was fairly frustrating to be so close and not try the beer (but our luck would change). The brewery which is next door looked as though it may still be working but there was no sign of life and no one in any of the local shops knew anything.

Lowenbrau Neeb, Unterschleichach ->
There was a notice in the pub doorway explaining that they had ceased trading due to lack of custom, and a fairly acrimonious note in the door of the brewery publicly slagging off the owners of the pub (who it appeared rented the building from the brewery), for bringing his business to it knees. What the future holds for this brewery is open to debate, but it seems that these small breweries close, that is it. They either shut for good, or are reopened with beers brewed under licence from another local brewery such as Goller in Ziel.

<- Brauerei Roppelt, Trossenfurt.
Back in the bus, we headed for Brauerei Roppelt in Trossenfurt, but not before plundering a local drink market for it's last few bottles from Lowenbrau Neeb (we were lucky to find them I think).

We decided to eat in Roppelt and what a good decision that was. The Schweinschnitzel in here was the best I have ever had. It was stuffed with onion and cheese and had melted cheese with cubes of ham on top and was enormous. The Roppelt beers were very good as well. No bock unfortunately, but a very good darkish Hausbrauererbier and wonderful cloudy Pilsner. As we were eating we decided to have two beers here, as they were that good.

<- Brauerei Brautigam, Weissbrunn.
Replenished and thirsting for the next pub we set off for Brautigam in Weissbrunn. The centre of the village was all ripped up for road works and after we had visited we had to swap the running order around to get to the next pub as our planned route was closed. It was getting dark by now and Stefan didn't fancy ploughing along unmade roads in the night. Brautigam's bar was very busy with several local families all having a early supper when we arrived and we had to split up a bit to get a seat. We seemed to be quite the topic of conversation and as we got further into the trip, it became obvious that the locals knew we were around as they had a tables reserved for us in the next pub. Just the one beer here, a very nice Pilsner which went down very well.

<- Brauerei Thein, Lembach.
Back over the hill to avoid the road works we stopped at Lembach for Thein Brau. All the food here is home prepared where possible, but we were so stuffed from the meal at Roppelt that we could not manage anything. The small of baking bread was heavenly. If I was in the vicinity again, I would chose to eat here as a first choice. There were three beers on offer, Pils, Lagerbier and a Dunkel, but again, disappointingly no Bockbier. The beers here were by far the best we had all day. The pils was a lovely soft beer.

<- Brauerei Schrufer, Priesendorf.
Next stop was Schrufer in Priesendorf, where their Vollbier was commented on as being the next best (after Thein). The locals again seemed to be taking a lot of interest in us and the landlady spent a long time chatting with Stefan, asking what we were doing in their small neck of the woods. I would have thought that was obvious - beer, beer and more beer please.

<- Brauerein Kundmuller in Weiher.

Kundmuller Rauchbier ->

The penultimate stop before our planned dinner at Beck-Brau in Trabelsdorf, was at Kundmuller in Weiher. This place was tiny and the pub was by far the biggest building in the village. We had to squeeze into a corner here as by now the evening drinkers were out in force. Disappointingly, we all thought that the beers here were very poor compared with some of the others we had drunk and several glasses were left on the table with beer still in them. The Weiherer Rauchbier, that I was so looking forward to, tasted very bland with very little in the way of smokiness to it.

Back in the bus for almost the last time, we scooted over the hill to Trabelsdorf where we attacked Beck Brau with gusto and between us we tried nearly every beer they had available (about 9 I think in all). Most of the group were so stuffed from lunch, that the planned dinner for 9 turned out to be 4 of us having a curry-wurst and frites each, and that was it! I don't think the owners were too impressed as we had promised 9 for dinner and they had reserved us a fairly large table to eat at. C'est la vie!. They didn't do badly out of us as far as beer sales went though.

By now the time table was out of the window as we were running about an hour late than expected. Stefan seemed to be quite happy to carry on, although Bob's friend Jeff (who lives in Bamberg), was dragged off by his ear by his beloved as we left.

I asked Stefan if he would change the planned trip to Sonne in Bischberg and divert to Buttner in Untergreuth. This is an incredibly difficult pub to get too as there are no buses to anywhere nearer that 5 kms away (Debring) when it is open and short of cycling to it in the better weather, I could not see myself being able to get to it in the near future. Annoyingly we found that the pub was all locked up and in darkness and as it was 10 pm, we suspected that it pub had closed for the day.

After a few choice swear words we loaded ourselves back into the bus and headed back to Bamberg, where after saying out goodbyes to Stefan and Bob we headed for Klosterbrau to wind down.

All in all it was a superb day and I can only reiterate my thanks to Bob for organising the bus and for Stefan for having the patience to drive us around the pubs and sit there whilst we all got steadily more drunk. Thanks guys.

I used Steve Thomas's Good Beer Guide to Germany, and Stefan Mack's Frankische Brauereikarte to do a lot of the planning and we had little problem with the information being fairly robust.

At which point I'll pick the story back up! Into Klosterbrau tap for their Starkbier (Blackbier) which was very good. We then turned up the hill to our last of the day, a bar called Storenkeller, which is about 100 yards from the Schlenkerla Brewery. This lovely wooden bar had Fridel Helles from Zentbechofen, which was excellent. It also sold about five other beers. Time and beer caught up with us again, and so we headed off to bed.

Sunday at least dawned dry, but overcast. After breakfast and the touristy bit, we showed Toby all the good bits as he hadn't been to Bamberg before, we headed up the long hill to Griefenklau. I hadn't actually drunk in the bar itself, only the garden, so this was a first. Lovely old smoky dark panelling, was enjoyed along with a loud game of cards and some Helles beers, lovely. The card game was producing some interesting german, sounds just like the dutch swearing, hmmm.

<- Spot the Lesser spotted Lambic Monster!

Anyway, a bus trip out to Muhlendorf and Muhlerbrau, which is a lovely refurbished building in an old watermill. Here you are in Carp eating country, and it literally is the whole fish done in breadcrumbs/batter. Interesting. However, we had their Bock which was excellent (light in colour) and the Pils which was also very good.

Next stop was Mullerbrau in Debring. Beers enjoyed here were their Bock (light) nice but a tad thin, Micherla Naturub which was very nice. The Vollbier dunkel was also good. The food though was excellent, not as much as the day before, but it certainly filled the gap.

After a debate about walking 5 k to another brewery, we decided to leave it as time was getting on, and we headed back to Bamberg, and oh what a surprise we fell into Schlenkerla, but this time we managed to sit in the other bar. Not been in here before, and some Marzen and Urbock was enjoyed. Although we were a beer short for the first round, after some talking in German, another round appeared that we didn't have to pay for, hmmm.

After this we slid down the road specifically to try Hubner Helles, which is only one 30l on a Sunday in Stilbruch. After doing our best to give this some terminal damage (it was rather good), we walked down to the Pelican for Hausbrau Stegaurach Helles. Again, another cracking Helles beer. We had passed through the village where the brewery is earlier in the day, but there is strangly no brewery tap!

Next beer then was Huppendorf Volbier from Grasserbrau at Huppendorf, which was pretty good. At this point it was decided a walk was in order, so we trooped off to Mahrs Brau. Again, I've only ever drunk in the Beer Garden, so it was lovely to finally get to drink in the bar itself. Lovely old wood panelling and of course some U was enjoyed. At this point Mahrs was closing, so we all headed back. However Toby and I still fancied another beer. Unfortunately all we could find open was this "Nightclub" which wasn't being at that time, just a bar. We found they had a local landbier on and plumped for this as a nightcap before heading to bed.

Monday dawned brighter, but with a cloud hanging over us, unfortunately it was going home day, grrrr.

Spezial was open so we met Matt in here for a couple of Rauchbiers and U's before heading off for the train. Do love this bar, it is a real locals bar.

We had decided to stop in Forchiem, as we had a few hours to kill. First stop was Privatbraueri Eichorn, which looked very nice, with good food. The Vollbier was very good.

Moving on to the Neder. The only beer on draught was the export which was very good. We then tried some of their beers from bottle and all were excellent. This is a lovely old brewery tap, it feels like its still 30 years behind the times. The Stammanich (Locals table) was semi circular, curious.

Moving four doors down bought us to Hebendanz brewery tap, where their Helles was tried, very nice. Unfortunately the next door brewery tap of Grief was closed so we'll save that one for another time. Around the corner to Gasthaus Schwane for some St Georgean beers. They do a Pottensteiner which we believe is brewed for them, as Schwane used to be a brewery. With time pushing us on it was back to Nuremberg for the flight, but time still to stop in Cafe Express, about 5 mins walk from central station. They had Mahrs U on draught, so a lovely beer to finish with.

All in all, one hell of a weekend 23 new brewery beers, plus lots of old favourites. Really must do this again, but it'll be back to Bamberg and Nuremberg area again as there are still plenty of Breweries to do. Must get back to Belgium though, the Lambic monster is starting to pine for Lambic !!

Prost! The Lambic Monster.
My thanks to Matt for sorting out the Saturday and his pictures, to Stephan the driver, and everyone who made it a fantastic weekend. Pictures cutresy of Matt, Eric and Toby. (must take a camera myself !)