Saturday, November 8, 2014

Franconian Beer Hike - Ebing to Freudeneck

This has to be one of the easiest and most convenient countryside beer walks one can do when visiting Upper Franconia.  Simply hop a regional train heading North to the small town of Ebing.  It's not but a 20 minute train ride an drop you off at an abandoned train station that lets you know in no uncertain terms that you are out in the countryside now.

The short 1-1.5 km walk from there to the town of Ebing will have you walking past a large pond that and a campground before you finally arrive in the center of town where  Gastwirtschaft Schwanen-Bräu is.

There's a nice little pub inside and a courtyard just through the main entrance that makes you feel as if you are drinking in a barn.  Brewery to one side and pub to the other.  This place is classic Franconia.

As far as I know the brewery serves one beer and really that's all it needs to serve as it is a fine dunkel.  A really mild and pleasant beer that one could drink all day long.

Next stop would be the village of Höfen to visit a brewery I've heard nothing but good about called Brauerei Gasthof Zum Goldenen Adler  This place did not disappoint.  In fact I'm going to go out on a limb and declare that this is my new favorite beer of Franconia.  So well balanced with a fresh hoppy character.  The folks running the place were very friendly and hospitable.  Some nice food was enjoyed as well.  Really all I wanted to know was is there an apartment for rent in the village so I could be as close to this place as possible next time.  Sadly I don't think there is.  But it's easy enough to get to nevertheless.

I didn't want to leave.  I knocked back at least 4 or 5 of these before we finally decided that there was one more stop to investigate.  I also enjoyed talking with a local that sat next to us who was also an admirer of this beer and very knowledgeable about the breweries of Franconia.  He spoke very little English and I very little German but somehow we talked for over an hour about the many different breweries around.  He was quite impressed how much I knew about the area and the villages and breweries.  He would name a brewery and I would reply with the name of the village and so on.  He found it a rare treat that someone from America would have such a deep familiarity of the local brewing culture.  Anyhow the next village of Freudeneck was also not very far and Brauerei Fischer.

The pilsener at Fischer was a perfectly fine beer but not up to the level of the other two but then again not many are.  The pub and beer garden at Fischer however were both buzzing with locals and jam packed.  Clearly a very popular place.

There was a brief thunderstorm while we sat at Fischer despite mostly clear skies when we arrived.  It ended quickly and we began our journey back to the station with one last stop at the brewery in Ebing for a last seidla.  One of the interesting terrain features of this region was all the cellars dug into the side of the hillsides/walls.  They were everywhere.  Most were padlocked.  I wonder how many were storing beer inside? 

I felt just a touch of melancholy on the walk back as this was our last day of a really fantastic trip to Franconia.  We would journey home the next day.  But of course I'll be back many times I'm sure

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Westport, County Mayo - A beer lovers destination?

Well that might be a bit of a stretch but I do remember saying to my wife back in 2012 that while the town of Westport was one of my favorite holiday destinations, there was one thing that it could really use to clinch the deal .... a local brewery or two.  The place already had great scenery, nice pubs, trad music in many of said pubs, plenty of hotels and B&B's to choose from, and the last decade even brought better cuisine to the town as they know have several very good restaurants to choose from.  What more do you want??  Well something other than Guinness and Smithwicks on tap would be a good.  Now they've got it all.

It all started with the opening of West May Brewery in July of 2013.  Then this year a brewery right in the town of Westport itself opened up called The Mescan Brewery.  Their focus seems to be on Belgian styles and I look forward to trying them on my return.  Lastly a new brewery is just opening up near Ballina (further north in County Mayo) called Reel Deel Brewery.  I don't know much about them but hopefully all goes well.

The opening of West Mayo in 2013 worked out perfectly for me as my return visit to Westport with my daughter came in May of 2014.  Now all we needed to happen was for local pubs to offer it on tap.  This also happened with several pubs in Westport now offering West Mayo Beers on tap.  I was able to find their Pale Ale on tap at Cobbler's Bar that is conveniently attached to the Wyatt Hotel that I was staying at.  I was really impressed with the Pale Ale.  It rivaled some of the best Pale Ale's that we have on tap over here in the US and I think it would go really well on cask and hopefully we'll see that in the future.

Also discovered the Pale Ale on tap at Matt Molloy's pub.  I went over there on an early afternoon to try it.  I sometimes avoid Molloy's at night due to the crowds jamming in the place to see the trad music but it's a nice spot in the afternoon to enjoy a pint or three as it is yet another lovely pub in a town full of them.

I also should mention that Cobbler's is trying to become somewhat of a craft beer bar as they served other beers from around Ireland in the bottle such as Dungarvan from Waterford.  They also listed on their chalkboard Blue Moon as American Craft beer.  This gave me a chuckle.  I opted for the very tasty Dungarvan Black Rock Stout.

Another pub I had visited for the first time in 2012 with my wife also jumped on the West Mayo bandwagon called McGing's.  McGing's is up the street a bit just past the clock tower and is also a place where you can enjoy a jazz session and bluegrass music sessions.  We attended one of each that weekend and they were both very good.  McGing's had the Red Ale and Stout on tap from West Mayo.  Again both winners.  We sampled each while listening to some live Jazz.

As I mentioned, there is some great scenery in County Mayo.  We took advantage of the nice weather on the Sunday we were there and drove up to the stunning Achill Island and after touring around found a nice pub on the way back for a late lunch and they also had West Mayo Stout on tap.  The pub is in Newport (just north of Westport) and called The Grainne Uaile

Some token scenic photos of Achill Island:

There's lots of great pubs in Westport overall.  Not all of them are carrying these beers but still worth a visit nevertheless for the atmosphere and hospitality.  I've made it a point to try and visit as many different ones as I can over the years since I'm as much of a pub lover as I am a beer lover.  So here are shots of two of my other favorites but there a many more:

So this beautiful little town on the shores of Clew Bay and in the shadow of Croagh Patrick (St. Patrick's mountain on the shore of Clew Bay) now has quite a bit to offer us beer lovers.  I reckon it won't be too long before I visit again.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Franconian Beer Hike - Bad Staffelstein to Ebensfeld

I've been very lax, as usual, about updating this blog and so I've got some catching up to do.  Hell, I still hadn't caught up with 2013 let alone this year but better late than never.

So this beer hike was done with friends Rick, Isa, Juergen, and Elmar.  Two Americans, two Franconians, and for good measure Isa from Hamburg.  What could possibly go wrong?

The thing I loved about this hike, apart from the wonderful breweries along the way, was the variety of terrain.  Rick, Isa, and I met Juergen and Elmar at the small train station at Bad Staffelstein about 30-40 minutes north of Bamberg and Elmar drove us out to Vierzehnheiligen and the hike started out at the rather impressive church/former monastery/brewery complex know as Vierzehnheiligen where the next door Brauerei Trunk bier garten provided a nice start to the day and a wonderful Helles and Dunkel lager biers to enjoy.  Both beers were solid and I could have spent more time there but there was a lot of ground to cover so we moved on.

The path from Trunk first took us uphill through a forest where we then came out to a plateau and walked a few kilometers to a hill (with a church on top of it of course) called Staffelberg.  Apparently this area was also some kind of ancient Celtic site and some ruins had been uncovered there.

Getting up to the top of Staffleberg was a bit of a chore and unfortunately the beer garden there was not open on that day due to some family issues for the owners.  Nevertheless the view was spectacular and we could clearly see down below to the village of Loffeld where our next brewery awaited us.  First we took in the views.


The walk down from Staffelberg to Loffed was steep and fairly long.  My knees were aching by the time we got to the bottom and I fell behind on this part of the hike.

But alas we made it to the picturesque village of Loffeld and Staffelberg Brau.

I have to say I really needed the break at this point and I really enjoyed the beer and lunch (trout) here.  I had visited this brewery with Juergen and Elmar in 2013 but the beer seemed better this time and they also seemed to have a larger selection.  I had the Rauchbier and the summer beer (golden lager with some nice hoppiness). 

The next stop would be Pferdsfeld and this would take us through a forest before emerging in a field on the other side where we would walk straight into a thunder storm.  Now I lagged behind on most of this hike but the prospect of getting struck by lightning in a Franconian field had me quickly take the lead to reach the autobahn underpass on the way to Pferdsfeld.  I suspect the lack of photos on this leg of the trip had something to do with fearing for my life but soon we'd reach the safety and hospitality of Brauerei Leicht in Pferdsfeld.  Pferdsfeld is a tiny village that takes all of 5-10 minutes to walk through but they have a wonderful brewery there serving a classic Franconian Vollbier that is now one of my favorites.  Juergen correctly pointed out that there is a hint of cane sugar flavor to the beer and I agree but the beer is not too sweet and cloying.  I found it clean and refreshing and I really didn't want to leave.  Really well brewed.  I wish I had the skill (and the soft Franconian water) to homebrew a beer like this.

I also add that the people of Brauerei Leicht are very friendly.  We felt welcome and you can tell it is definitely a locals hangout. 
Next stop would be the village of Unterneuses to see if Brauerei Martin was open.  Sadly the brewery was closed for renovations and they told us it wouldn't reopen until next year.  Let's hope so.  All too often this sort of closing is permanent in Franconia so let's hope for the best.  The brewery tap was still open though and serving beer from the excellent Brauerei Hummel of Merkendorf so it wasn't a total loss. 

After the beer in Unterneuses we parted ways with Juergen and Elmar and headed south to the train station in Ebensfeld while they trudged back north to their car.  What happened next was a bit of a surprise and I regretted that Juergen and Elmar didn't walk to Ebensfeld with us as we discovered that the Brewery Tap for Schwanen Brau in Ebensfeld had reopened.  We had tried to visit in 2013 and found the doors shut and thought it might be permanent but the place was open and lively and the beer was really quite good. 

We stayed for three rounds in Ebensfeld and in hindsight should have stayed longer but we thought it might be a good idea to catch a train back to Bamberg.  Next time as Ebensfeld is worth another visit and this hike is one I would do again.