Thursday, September 26, 2013

Last Visit to Germany

Avoid the Major Brews

I just returned from my latest trip to Germany. I visited Munich, Passau, Erlangen and Nuremberg and sampled many brews. Here is what I observed.

My first stop was a two-day stopover in Munich since my Lufthansa flight was from Chicago to Munich. I stayed in the western suburb of Pasing. My first meal was at a nearby inn and they were serving two brands, Becks, the major brewery from Bremen in northern Germany, and Munich's Spaten. I tried the Becks Pils first, and it was highly disappointing. I then switched to Spaten, which I had never been fond of anyway. Again, disappointing but better than the Becks.

The following day, I walked around Munich. I had lunch at a pizza place, and their brew was Thurn and Taxis, the major brewery of Regensburg. It was alright-better than the two from the previous evening. I also stopped in for a liter at the Augustiner Beer hall. Pretty good.

I had wanted to go to the Hirschgarten, reputed to be Europe's largest beer garden, but the weather was not favorable. Beer gardens and rain don't mix. They also feature Augustiner, so what I had at the Augustiner hall must have been just as good.

Augustiner Hall Munich

One thing I noticed in Munich and also in Passau was that many restaurants are not featuring just one brand, but a couple of brands with a variety of styles such as pils, helles, hefe or dunkles. I stuck with the pils and helles. I also noticed that the traditional custom of a draft beer taking 7 minutes in the process seems to have gone by the boards.

I then took the train to Passau (not waiting for the Oktoberfest to begin). My first night in Passau I took the bus to the Herbstdult, the Autumn Fest, which is mostly a luna park type affair with kids' rides, booths for brats and beer plus two large spaces for the beer fest scene.

Passau has a few breweries, and the fest was featuring Innstadt and Hacklberg, two breweries which have merged. I wound up going two nights and I can say that their fest beer was the best of my trip. Drinking them in restaurants was a different story. Other breweries in Passau are Loewenbrau (no relation to the one in Munich) and Aldersbacher, both of which were alright. By the way, Passau's historiography says that Adolf Hitler, before coming to power, would visit the owner of the Loewenbrau brewery, Franz Stockbauer, when he visited the city. The brewery is located on Franz Stockbauerweg.

After three days in Passau, I was on the train to Erlangen, my prime destination since here is where I spent my Army years.

Erlangen has basically two breweries, Kitzmann, the oldest and the best) and Steinbach, which was re-instituted several years ago. Both have  eating and drinking facilities at their breweries. Kitzmann has a nice stube and beer garden while Steinbach has a cellar restaurant and bar above which seems to be a favorite with the happy hour crowd.

Above Kitzmann beer garden

Steinbach's beer is not to my taste because it has a hefe quality to it. That's why I prefer Kitzmann and drinking it at their brewery was one of the best of my sojourn. One evening, however, I stopped into the Steinbach bar just to check it out and ran into a friend from the city archives. I joined him and his friends for a beer, and through him managed to get a free Steinbach polo shirt.

Another beer that has managed to get into the Erlangen restaurant and kneipe market is Kulmbacher Moenchof. I didn't think it was that great, but I did have a Kulmbacher pils from the bottle and it was pretty good.

Other beers I tried in Erlangen:

Jever in a bottle- a northern brew not bad
Greif of nearby Forcheim- OK
Held from the Fraenkische Schweiz area near Erlangen- OK
Aufsesser from Rothenbach in Franconia-pretty good.

I also had an Efes Plzen (Turkish) while in a Turkish food place. This is a quality beer which I loved when in Turkey.

In addition, while dining in a Bohemian-German restaurant in Erlangen, they were featuring Bernhard, a Czech beer, which was also nice.

I also spent a day in Nuremberg. I try to avoid Tucher, the main Nuremberg,brewery and a smaller one, Lederer. In addition, the nearby Zirndorfer beer from the nearby village of Zirndorf, is one of the worst beers in Germany, to my taste anyway. At lunch I had a Veldensteiner, from an old Bavarian brewery that imports to the US. Not bad. For dinner I was a guest at my friend, Tony Gentile and his Italian restaurant, Osteria Da Toni in nearby Stein. Since he served Tucher and Zirndorfer, I went with the wine.

You may be getting the impression I am not as crazy about German beer as this blog suggests. Not true, but I think I have brought home an important lesson. In recent years, many of the largest German brewing companies have bought up many smaller breweries and become mass produced to the point that that they have compromised on quality-just trying to appeal to the largest taste market.  This has resulted in what some Germans call, "industrial beer." Thus, it is a good idea to:

1 Stick to local brews wherever you are

2 Go for the smaller and less-known breweries. Avoid the large, well-known brands.

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