Bocks are the wild card in German brewing. Though they can be sticky affairs, the best seem to be able to straddle the necessary big malt presence in these high octane brews and ride out in dryish style. Finding them isn’t always easy but you can up your odds by doing it in Franconia, where dry finishes aren’t nearly as rare.
After a great day before birthday lunch at the Brauerei Göller in Zeil am Main, my wife and I rushed back to Bamberg in hopes of catching a local bus to Mönchsambach, small village home to Franconian legend Brauerei Zehendner. It wasn’t on the original itinerary but as luck would have it, their Christmas Bock was being tapped for the first time of the season. We made the bus but missed the tapping, as evidenced by the beer flowing from the large wooden barrel in the foyer of the brewery. The 4:00 scheduled tapping time hadn’t yet struck but with a full house of rowdy locals in the main room, they’d obviously moved it up a bit. With no chance to get a seat in the small filled-to-the-brim pub, we spotted an as yet undiscovered (by us) room back by the restrooms. It was a large beer hall and there were thankfully plenty of seats. We settled in and in no time, two fine Bocks were in front of us and it was very much the elusive type of Bock described earlier: rich and malty with a fruity palate and a very long dry finish. Perhaps it was a good thing we only had about 90 minutes to enjoy this majestic brew before catching the last bus back to Bamberg, where we were staying.
Zehendner’s Weihnactsbock Anstich in Mönchsambach
Waking up a bit fuzzy the next morning on my birthday, I quickly gave up on the notion of going on another beery excursion into the surroundings of Bamberg. My wife had been more than understanding the day before going on two trips in one day. Though we’ve been to Bamberg many times, it’s not only my favorite German city, it’s one of my wife’s too. Some of my birthday trips there, unfortunately, are mostly spent going to one of the nearly 300 breweries that dot the landscape around the charming town. Rather than do that again, I decided to spend the day in town and get some brewery photos for the website. It would give us a good excuse to do a fair amount of walking but also to enjoy some places we don’t get to enough. It would also be a chance to re-sample some of the fine Bocks that the Bamberg breweries produce.
Keesman Bräu in the Wunderburg area of Bamberg
First up was the Brauerei Keesmann in the Wunderberg area of town. It’s a nice walk along the river to get there and most heading that way are going to neighboring Marhsbräu but Keesmann is home to perhaps the most renowned of Franconian pilsners in their Herren Pils. My wife, not up for a Bock that early in the day, opted for one of them but I happily enjoyed their dryish deep golden Bock to wash down a nice pair of Bratwurst.
A Schnitt (last beer can be a half) of their Bock and tasty pair of Bratwurst
Nearly across the street is the more famous of the Wunderburg breweries: Mahrsbräu, which was once voted best small brewery in the world. It’s one of the most atmospheric pubs I’ve ever been and though many say their beer has dropped a notch in quailty, their Bock was flowing and it was perhaps even better than the Keesmann entry. Since it was a quick one, we stood in the Schwemme, a long hallway area utilized for exactly what we were doing. Workers used these areas for a quick beer (or three) before going home.
Wooden kegs at Marh’s Bräu and their deep golden Bock
It was a long haul from there to Greifenklau up the Stefansberg to the Laurenzi neighborhood of Bamberg. En route, we enjoyed the old town bustling with Christmas markets only present in the weeks of December. Greifenklau was the busiest I’d ever seen it and we found a cozy spot next to the Kachelofen, large tiled (generally always seem to be green) ovens giving off tons of heat. Their Bock wasn’t a match for Mahrs but it was certainly better than many I’ve had.
Bamberg decked out for Christmas & Greifenklau’s bustling brewpub & Bock
Back down the hill and in the old town center once again, we decided last minute to stop in Schlenkerla for their Eiche, a smoky Dopplebock. It would be odd indeed for me to not at least make a cameo at the famed old world pub on my birthday. The beer and atmosphere were as great as ever and not to be missed if you are ever in Bamberg. A fine plate of smoked ham kept us going and though it would have been easy to stay put or even go to another brewery in the old town, I can never turn down the idea of a new brewery.
Rauchbier schrine Schlenkerla, a plate of smokey ham & my lovely wife enjoying an Eiche
Bamberg has a relatively new addition to their already formidable brewing scene. Joining the ranks of the nine older town breweries, Der Kronprinz (the Crown Prince) has already garnered raves for their craft beer in a town full of understandably jaded locals. We hadn’t made the longish walk there in the two years it had been open so this seemed as good a time to do it as any. Their Hoppy Jack was a solid Stone Arrogant Bastard knockoff and at 8% would qualify as a Bock in any parallel universe. We ordered what turned out to be a huge flat-bread to go with it.
Gorgeous flatbread & Hoppy Jack, an 8% monster of a Bock
That would be it for the night but the next morning, I went out to take some photos of Brauerei Fassla across the street from the brewery we were staying. While there, I had a quick Bambergator, a forgotten gem of a Bock.
Fässla’s Bambergator & empty interior in the morning
We left our bags at Brauerei Spezial (where were were staying) to take a quick walk around the old town and returned there for a magnificent last meal. Of course, we washed it down with their smokey Bock. How could we finish any other way.
Duck breast & one last Bock at Brauerei Spezial
Hiking for your Bocks is a fun and safe way to experience this special time of year.