Bamberg and the beer

Today, the city of Bamberg has thirteen breweries that brew a total of around 50 different beers. If you add the district of Bamberg, the beer cosmos expands by another 60 breweries with a good 300 beer creations. And the trend is upward. Creativity, whether in the traditional breweries or in new microbreweries, is gladly lived out in special brews. But first a look at history.

Die Altenburg mit ihrem markanten Turm steht auf einem Bergkegel am Rande der Steigerwaldhöhe. Die Burg war von 1305 bis 1553 Residenz der Bamberger Fürstbischöfe / © Foto: Georg Berg
Altenburg Castle with its distinctive tower stands on a mountain cone on the edge of the Steigerwald Heights. The castle was the residence of the Bamberg prince-bishops from 1305 to 1553 / © Photo: Georg Berg

A very special brew full of brewery stories

In Bamberg, too, beer brewing began in the monasteries. Think of the many beers and pubs that are still called Klosterbräu today. Later, beer brewing became a typical bourgeois trade. The brewing right was granted in Bamberg by the prince-bishop. But it was not tied to persons, but to house and property.

Das Haus in der Dominikanerstraße 6 in Bamberg ist ein prominentes Beispiel für das an ein Grundstück verbriefte Braurecht aus dem Mittelalter / Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, Brauerei-Ausschank seit 1405 / © Foto: Georg Berg
The house at Dominikanerstraße 6 in Bamberg is a prominent example of a brewing right from the Middle Ages that was tied to a piece of land / Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, brewery serving beer since 1405 / © Photo: Georg Berg

The documented brewing right meant that beer was brewed at one and the same location for centuries, even with changing owners. With regard to the famous Purity Law, Bamberg can boast a superlative. As early as 1489, the prince-bishop of Bamberg specified the ingredients for beer. Only malt, hops and water were to be used for its production. It was not until 1516 that the Bavarian Purity Law was written, a full 27 years later.

Der Schlenkerla ist allgegenwärtig. So nannten die Bamberger den Bierbrauer Andreas Graser, zweiter in der Generation der heutigen Eigentümerfamilie. Er schlenkerte beim Gehen auffällig mit den Armen und bekam so seinen Spitznamen / © Foto: Georg Berg
The Schlenkerla is omnipresent. This is what the people of Bamberg called the brewer Andreas Graser, second in the generation of the current owner family. He flapped his arms conspicuously as he walked, which is how he got his nickname / © Photo: Georg Berg

Bamberger Rauchbier – A beer legend

The history of Bamberger Rauchbier is almost 1,000 years old. In earlier times, beer had a distinct smoky taste, without exception and not only in Bamberg. This is because in our latitudes the malt could not be dried without smoke. Only since smoke-free drying technology was introduced in England in the first half of the 19th century did smoked beer become a speciality. From the 1930s onward, the Bamberg breweries Schlenkerla and Spezial were the only ones to remain true to smoked beer. Both breweries have their own smoke kiln. In this way, they turn the beer into a local specialty using an old production method.

Matthias Trum von der Schlenkerla Bräu vor dem Holzofen mit dem das Grünmalz betrocknet wird. In der Hand hält er eine Zeichnung zur industriellen Malztrocknung nach Sir Nicholas Halse / © Foto: Georg Berg
Matthias Trum from Schlenkerla Bräu in front of the wood-fired oven used to dry the green malt. In his hand, he holds a drawing of industrial malt drying according to Sir Nicholas Halse / © Photo: Georg Berg

How does the smoke get into the beer?

The so-called green malt is responsible for the distinctive smoky flavor. In the brewing process, it is dried on the kiln after soaking and germination. It is dried by the hot smoke of an open beechwood fire in the brewery’s own smoke kilns. The smoke penetrates the green malt and in the further brewing process the smoke aromas are released into the beer.

Rauchbier gibt es rund ums Jahr. Sogar Kochen lässt sich mit Rauchbier. Die Brauerei Schlenkerla bietet dazu viele Termine. Neu im Schlenkerla ist ein mittelalterliches Essen nach alten Rezepten und mit den Aromen von Rauchbier / © Foto: Georg Berg
Smoked beer is available all year round. Smoke beer can even be used for cooking. The Schlenkerla brewery offers many dates for this. New at Schlenkerla is a medieval meal based on old recipes and with the aromas of smoked beer / © Photo: Georg Berg

Smoked beer all year round

The traditional Bamberg smoked beer produced with this smoked malt is available at the Schlenkerla brewery all year round and also in special brews. It starts in February with the Aecht Schlenkerla Lent Beer. The tapping of the full-bodied Lenten beers takes place on Ash Wednesday. This tradition originated in the monastery and is a rather clever interpretation of the monks. For it was true that what is liquid does not break a fast. Accordingly, the Lenten beers were more substantial to counteract the lack of solid food.

Mit Matthias Trum, der die Heller-Bräu seit 2003 leitet, kann man tief in die Brauerei-Geschichte eintauchen. Man merkt schnell, dass er auch Bier-Historiker ist und über ein umfangreiches Wissen verfügt, dass ihm auch dabei hilft, die rund 600-jährige Biergeschichte seiner eigenen Brauerei zu bewahren / © Foto: Georg Berg
With Matthias Trum, who has been managing Heller-Bräu since 2003, you can delve deep into the history of the brewery. You quickly realize that he is also a beer historian and has a wealth of knowledge that also helps him preserve the roughly 600-year beer history of his own brewery / © Photo: Georg Berg

From May to September goes the beer cellar season. Cellar beers are light summer beers. Schlenkerla then serves Aecht Schlenkerla Kräusen from the wooden barrel. October and November are the times of the Bockbier tastings. The Schlenkerla then celebrates the tapping of the Aecht-Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock.

Im Felsenkeller am Stephansberg der Heller-Bräu, die seit 1866 von Familie Trum geführt wird. Brauer waren früher oft auch Büttner, die die Fässer herstellten / © Foto: Georg Berg
In the Felsenkeller on the Stephansberg, Heller-Bräu, which has been run by the Trum family since 1866. In the past, brewers were often also bakers who made the barrels / © Photo: Georg Berg

The Bierothek with beer variety from Franconia and the world

In the 19th century, there were still over 60 breweries in Bamberg. With industrialization, this number declined. But for some years now, the trend has been moving in the other direction again. Craft-brewed, well-made beer is finding more and more fans. Young brewers are entering the industry. One of these younger success stories is Bierothek. It was founded in 2014 and already in 2016 David Hertl from the Hertl Brewery in the Bamberg region took over.

Zentral gelegen an der Unteren Königsstraße liegt die Bierothek von Bamberg / © Foto: Georg Berg
Centrally located on Untere Königsstraße is the Bierothek of Bamberg / © Photo: Georg Berg.

In 2021, there are already 16 beer stores in the franchise system nationwide. Here you can buy pretty much every type of beer brewed on the globe. David Hertl has around 350 varieties in his range. Of these, 20 percent are in constant rotation. Sometimes a variety doesn’t do so well, sometimes it does too well, sometimes it’s a special brew, then it’s a case of what’s gone is gone. New varieties are constantly being added, including many from the very active Franconian brewing scene, of which there are over 100 varieties in the Bierothek Bamberg. Of course, there are also the varieties from the Hertl brewery.

Die Familie ist immer mit dabei: Hier eine Auswahl der Biere aus der Hertl Brauerei / © Foto: Georg Berg
The family is always involved: Here is a selection of the beers from the Hertl Brewery / © Photo: Georg Berg

David Hertl’s father is a winemaker, but his son’s heart has been in beer ever since he set eyes on a brew kettle at the age of 15. The small Hertl brewery now produces over 40 different varieties a year. Among them are very seasonal products such as a beetroot beer or, in the fall, Drunken Pumkin beer from a can. In summer, the refreshing cucumber beer called Gurken Gose goes down well. It goes well with light dishes like fish and salad. David Hertl is not only a master brewer and maltster, but has also trained as a beer sommelier. This helps in advising the Bierothek’s customers on their choice of beer from the huge range on offer.

Mit großer Begeisterung bei der Sache: David Hertl mit Bier aus der eigenen Familienbrauerei und umgeben von Biersorten aus aller Welt / © Foto: Georg Berg
At work with great enthusiasm: David Hertl with beer from his own family brewery and surrounded by beer varieties from all over the world / © Photo: Georg Berg

Bamberg also satisfies the thirst for knowledge

The possibilities of approaching the topic of beer in Bamberg or enriching one’s own half-knowledge through well-founded training seem unlimited. For example, it is possible to book a beer connoisseur tour with a beer sommelier. On one’s own, beer gourmet tours through the Bamberg brewery scene can be undertaken. Numerous enjoyment seminars are also offered by the Weyermann malt house, an institution in Bamberg and world market leader in the field of specialty malts. The German Beer Academy is also based in Bamberg. And those who want to have their own thirst for knowledge certified can also train as beer sommeliers in Bamberg.

Book tip

Fittingly at a time when people are looking for destinations that aren’t quite in the spotlight, Dumont has published a travel guide called Germany’s Underrated Cities. The list is headed by B for Bamberg, M for Mannheim and T for Trier. The travel tips each provide enough arguments for an exciting city trip.

DuMont illustrated book: Germany’s underrated cities, ISBN-13 : 978-3770188697

The research trip was supported by Bamberg Tourismus

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