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Bamberg, Germany: Beer Trip, September 2009

In late September 2009 a few friends and I capped our trip to Oktoberfest with a visit to Bamberg, a 1000+ year-old town known for its beer.

Bamberg is a charming small city of about 70,000 in northern Bavaria. It’s reminiscent of Bruges in that it escaped bombing during WWII, retaining a twisty medieval character. Bamberg is home to eight old German breweries (plus a modern brewpub), two of which specialize in Rauchbier (smoked beer).

For a non-beer tourist, Bamberg is worth a day trip if you’re already in Bavaria – perhaps touring Neuschwanstein castle or other local attractions.  The old city hall, towers, and other medieval buildings are just wonderful to see and explore.

For beer aficionados, Bamberg is an absolutely required pilgrimage. A unique bit of beer history preserved here (by the way, Evan Rail wrote a superb overview of beer travel in Germany, including great pointers to Bamberg and Rauchbier, in the New York Times a couple of years ago).

Here are a few of my notes and recommendations, followed by a photo album:

  • Take a cab from the train station to the old part of the city or to your hotel. The station is just far enough away from the action, and in a relatively grim-looking part of town, to make walking unpleasant.
  • Stay at one of the breweries. At least two have guest rooms – Spezial and Mahr’s Bräu. A very nice way to get at heart of what Bamberg’s about.
  • Try some Rauchbier at the source. Spezial (my favorite) and Schlenkerla (better known) are the only two breweries that make it. Rauchbier is described in many ways: “bacon beer,” “like licking an ash tray,” “the beer equivalent of a peaty single malt Scotch whisky, like Ardbeg, Laphroaig, or Lagavulin.” A must-try.
  • Visit the Geyerswörth Palace. I’ve no idea if there’s anything worth seeing in the actual buildings, but you should climb the tower (key is available from the Tourist Office a block or two away) and take in the beautiful views of the town and the hills around.
  • The Weyermann Maltings is a can’t-miss destination for the beer geek. Professional- and home-brewers both will know the Weyermann name – one of the world’s best-known and highest quality malted grain providers. Call in advance to arrange a tour. They’ll happily show you around if you give them at least a day’s notice, but are much less willing to accommodate immediate requests. The well-stocked gift ship is open only on Fridays, but you might be able to get them to open it for you on a different day. Amazing selection of beer-related gear, the most interesting being beers brewed at their pilot brewery on site. The only ales I saw in Bavaria. Weyermann beer is ultra-rare, sold only at this gift shop.
  • Our favorite breweries, in descending order: 1) Spezial (definitely smoked beer, but not over-smoked), 2) Mahr’s (try the “ungespundet” – head and shoulders above their others), 3) Schlenkerla (the classic richly-flavored Rauchbier), and 4) Klosterbräu (decent all-around lagers).
  • We did not like any of the beers at Fässla, and we tried them all. The service was also distinctly unfriendly.

Here are some of my photos from Bamberg. As always, I suggest viewing the slideshow directly on Flickr here, but you can also get a sense from the gallery I’ve pasted below (note that there are two pages of photos):

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