Bamberg Beercation: A Self-Guided Bamberg Beer Tour
I couldn’t possibly venture to Bamberg, Germany without making a mention of its significant brewing tradition. In fact, a mention wouldn’t do Bamberg justice. This little city’s contribution to the beer world merits an entire post. Secretly, it was the main reason why I wanted to visit – to go on a self-guided Bamberg beer tour.
UNESCO World Heritage Site aside, this town of 70,000 boasts 9 breweries brewing 50 unique beers. For comparison sake, at the time of publication, my hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina had only four breweries with a population of over 700,000.
Yes, we were beer tourists, but to our defense, brewing and consuming beer is a part of the city’s history.
The first recorded mention of beer was in 1039 when Cathedral Canon Ouldaricus decreed free beer for all on the day of his death. The first recorded brewery dates back to 1122 when Saint Michael’s Monastery began brewing beer. They brewed their holy lagers up until 1969 and now the facility operates as a museum.
Beer was so important to the good citizens of Bamberg that they devised their Purity Law in 1489 (27 years before the rest of Bavaria). Under the Purity Law, the only ingredients permitted in beer were hops, malt, and water. No fillers allowed.
Nestled in quaint neighborhood throughout town, breweries go hand-in-hand with life in Bamberg
It’s almost as if the brewery taverns are extensions of the home. You can find men playing cards, friends stopping in for a mite or two after work, a couple on a date, families enjoying dinner, or the lone loafer sipping a cold one over a novel.
Each brewery has an archway in the middle called a Schwemm. In the past, carts carrying barrels of beer to and from the brewery would pass through this archway. Now the Schwemm is used as a corridor between the front door of the building and the door to the tavern. All Schwemms have a window for patrons to buy beer to go, or to buy beer and drink it in the corridor so that they can honestly tell their spouses that they did not stop into the pub on their way home from work (my wife wouldn’t go for that line…)
After hitting the churches and city sites, our goal was to visit as many of the nine breweries as possible during our two night stay.
Ideally, we would have liked to visit some of the more 300 breweries in the surrounding countryside, but our drive-by European itinerary did not permit the time. Instead, we ended up visiting seven of the nine. The two we missed are relatively far on the outskirts of Bamberg.
To enjoy a similar awesome time like we did, enjoy this 48 hour self-guided beer tour of Bamberg!
First Day of the Bamberg Beer Tour
Ambrausianums was our first stop after dinner on Sunday night. It’s the newest brewery opening in 2004 and the only one that lacked a Schwemm. The brewing equipment sits right in the middle of the tavern open for public viewing and smelling. The aroma of the malts wafted throughout the tavern in what I am not convinced is a good way. They almost overpowered the nose of the beer.
We both had their unfiltered Dunkel. It was a bit flat. We were disappointed and moved on. Ambrausianums is known for their Helles. I suggest trying that. We were helled out though after three days in Munich prior.
Next was Bamberg’s most famous brewery, Schlenkerla. Schlenkerla is known for their Rauchbier (smoked beer) and is located around the corner from Ambrausianums. The smoke comes from the process of drying the malts over an open flame. Think campfire and smoky bacon.
I actually had a Rauchbier earlier in the day from Schlenkerla over a crispy pork belly dinner at Kachelofen (highly recommended for dinner on your Bamberg beer tour). It was a perfect pairing for the beer. What I found interesting was that not just the traditional Rauchbier was smoked, but all beers that Schlenkerla produced had that signature smoke flavor.
We stuck around for two rounds: the Rauchbier (had to try it from the source) and their Hefeweizen. While both beers were smoky (and excellent), the smoke came through more with the Hefeweizen. The stronger malts in the Rauchbier danced better with the smoke creating a more balance brew.
Pro Trip – I highly recommend Altstadthotel Molitor. It was in-expensive, comfortable, and a perfect place to center your Bamberg beer tour. They also include a hearty breakfast!
We sipped on two beers – the Braunbier and the Schwarzla (black beer). Both were very similar but the Schwarzla had a bit more of everything – stronger malts, darker color, crisper finish. Oddly, it wasn’t black but dark brown. I also have to recommend the kitchen at Klosterbrau. We dined on garlic sausage with kraut and spetzel with cabbage and cheese.
Second Day of the Bamberg Beer Tour
After sightseeing in the morning (the tourist office offers an excellent self-paced audio tour), we kicked off the second half of our beer tour at Fassla over a late lunch. Fassla is known for its trademark dwarf rolling a barrel on their label. The brewery is also a hotel, which adds that extra convenience of stumbling upstairs to your room after one too many mites..
Zwerglas is their most famous beer; it’s creamy with a slight nutty flavor and dark gold in color. Also of mention is their Pilsner. It had more flavor than most – citrusy and refreshing. A very good beer coming off tramping up and down the hills of Bamberg.
Directly across the street from Fassla is Brauerei Spezial (circa 1536). We stuck around for two rounds here. While the tavern was kind of quiet, it was fun to watch the few patrons carry-on. The crowd across from our table was quite raucous with men aging from early twenties to retirement age. An elderly gentleman dropped in and sat at our table for a very quick beer. A regular no doubt. He simply called out “Bier!” to the waitress, and she knew what to bring him.
Brauerei Special also serves smoked beer. The lager was light and very smoky. Once again, the lighter the beer, the stronger the smoke. Moving up the smoke chain, the Marzen had a better balance of flavors. We also tried the Weizen (unsmoked). Think cloves, bananas, and everything else a German Weizen should be.
Down the river from Fassla and Zum Special located in the Wunderberg District are the last two breweries of this tour. I have to admit that Mahrs Brau was probably my and the local’s favorite brewery based on liveliness alone. There were tables of men playing card, students conducting political debates (I’m assuming. I don’t speak German to know for certain if they were students or whether they were debating politics or which German auto manufacturer is better engineered.), and American business people hosting a company function.
Besides the camaraderie of a lively tavern, the beer was also worthwhile. I particularly, enjoyed the “U”. It was the only beer on the tour that was so nice that I drank it twice. It was more like an ale than any other beer I tried. It lacked that crisp finish found in lagers and had an apple flavor to the malts. We also tried to Wiesse Bock which is exactly as it sounds – a Weis and a Bock mixed together.
Our last brewery on the tour (but not our last of the night) was Keesman. Known for their popularly exported pils, Keesman failed to impress us. Maybe it was because we were golden beered out, maybe it was because we were tired, or maybe it was because we had our sights set on a nightcap at Klosterbrau. We finished our pils and walked back towards our hotel.
Third Day of the Bamberg Beer Tour
The last day of your Bamberg beer tour is a quite one. Wake up and enjoy a leisurely walk around town, enjoying some of the sites you missed yesterday. Or maybe just enjoy a cup of coffee with an overlook of the river.
Finish your time in Bamberg with lunch at Café Abseits, which boasts the largest selection of beers on draught and in bottle from both Bamberg and greater Franconia.
Pro Tips – If you plan to do a Bamberg beer tour, purchase the BierSchmecker Tour from the Bamberg Visitors Center. Twenty Euros gets you a rucksack, informational booklet, five vouchers for mites (half liter) of beer, ceramic beer stein, and coasters of participating breweries. That’s a lot of punch for the money.