“Eat your carrots,” that’s what they always tell you. Well, at least your Mom. It seems they’re good for everything from eyesight to a host of other healthy things. Of course, no one actually likes carrots aside from maybe carrot cake. I’ll tell you one person who doesn’t like carrots: my wife. She can tolerate raw ones but don’t put any cooked ones on her plate or in your dish if you want to stay on her good side. Not necessarily related but she doesn’t have great vision and I always joke that’s the only way I managed to get her to go out with me. That I don’t use carrots in any of my dishes probably really sealed the deal, though.
What do carrots have to do with Zoigl? Well, people in the Oberpfalz seem to like them. Where’s the Oberpfalz you ask. Don’t feel bad, I didn’t have much of a notion up until two years ago. It’s the Upper Palatinate in English but that probably won’t help you, either. I had to look that up myself, too. All of this research was tied to one thing: Zoigl. This was a beer style I’d read about years ago but wrote off as being too much of a hassle to bother with. At that time, I was new to Franconian beer and I had my hands full trying to get to out of the way rural breweries there.
in case you want to know where the Upper Palatinate is
More recently, I saw some bottled Zoigl and figured I’d give them a try, only to be somewhat put off by them. They weren’t bad, but if that was Zoigl, I sure as hell wasn’t going to venture off to the Upper Palatinate to find it. After I found the Upper Palatinate that is, of course. As chance would have it, on a trip up to Saxony to visit my wife’s family, I was starting to run low on beery Franconian stopovers. I decided to find a hotel in a Zoigl town and give the whole thing a go. My wife was less than enthused. She’d tried the bottles and was even less impressed than I was.
Well, that trip went so well and won my wife over so thoroughly that she agreed to join me on a hike I’d devised for a friend from the States, who had to back out due to other commitments. We’d stopped in four of the five Zoigl towns on that first trip but only briefly. I’d done a little research afterwards to find there was some fine looking hiking in the area between the towns. So, I devised a route that looked doable, not realizing that part of it was, in fact, the Goldsteig. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of that, either. I hadn’t until a fellow lover of beer and hiking pointed it out to me. At any rate, I had two 15k days of walking linking four Zoigl towns and a wife willing to accompany me. Who was I to ask questions or complain?
sign heralding the Goldsteig, Germany’s longest hiking trail
All that was left was to hope for good weather and when the day of the hike arrived so had the sun. The train to Wiesau in the Oberfpalz went quickly and smoothly enough. We were to meet up with one of the only buses of the day to Mitterteich. There was a slight delay but that’s not unusual and we had twenty minutes in between connections. Wiesau looked unremarkable and we were happy to see others waiting for the same bus. That’s always a good sign in a small town. The locals always know if the bus is actually running that day. The trip was quick, the distance not all that far. In fact, I’d mapped out a hiking trail of sorts to Mitterteich in the event the connection hadn’t worked out. The problem was, it was already two in the afternoon and the added distance would have meant a very late arrival in our overnight stop, not to mention a less than happy wife.
the main square of Mitterteich and its communal brew house
We’d done a brief stop in Mitterteich on our first Zoigl car tour so knew what to expect: a nice little market town with a church on the main square. We’d driven by the communal brewery on the way in and this time, the bus dropped us off not far from it. So, we backtracked a bit to snap a few photos of the place our soon to be drunk beer was made. We then made a beeline to the Hartwich Zoiglstube just beyond the square. On our way, we walked by Luggerts Zoiglstube the last place I’d had a Zoigl the year prior. It was obviously closed. Only one Zoiglstube per weekend is open.
the atmospheric Hartwich Zoiglstube
Hartwich was already buzzing but there were a few outside tables open and once seated, a couple nice Zoigl sat in front of us. One goal of this trip for me was to finally try Schlachtschüssel, a ritualistic meal served after the slaughtering of an animal, generally a pig in Germany. Might sound awful and my first few views of one drew similar reactions from me but I’d warmed to the idea after reading about it in more detail. This looked like the place to get it, a butcher as well as Zoigl brewer. I decided with a long walk ahead of me, I’d be better off saving it for dinner and had an amazing Bauernbratwurst instead.
Hartwich Zoigl & Bauernbratwurst made on the premises
Mitterteich would have been a good spot to rest our heads but after a second Zoigl for me, we were on our way. The route was easy to follow and quite scenic, passing first through pastoral farmland before delving into a thick forest interspersed with ponds. The area is noted for the latter, known as ”Teich” in German. The town’s seemingly odd name of Mitterteich now made more sense. It was a relatively flat trail, suited to bikes so unsurprisingly a few whizzed by us though certainly not enough to disrupt the tranquility of the otherwise deserted trail.
one of many ponds and open pastoral farmland
We were waltzing into Falkenberg before we knew it, first by our next Zoigl outlet and a few minutes later, our hotel for the evening: Zum Goldener Stern. Check-in was swift and after a much deserved hot shower, we were out catching the last warm rays of sun on the glowing Falkenberg Castle. This was one of the sites we’d seen on that first trip into the area that made us want to return. It didn’t disappoint in this far better weather. The communal brewery was conveniently right next to it, which made for atmospheric shots. With the sun setting and the Schwoahansl Zoiglstube calling, we were soon on our way back through the square in its direction. The whole town must be little more than ten minutes across.
Falkenberg with the sun going down
The super attractive Biergarten was packed so we dejectedly took a spot in the nearly empty interior. It was cozy enough and on a cold winter night surely a great place to imbibe in Zoigl, but it was a gorgeous night and needless to say, as we drank our first Zoigl, I was up more than a few times checking to see if a spot had opened up. We had a perfect vantage point and my wife gleefully told me to rush out again as she saw someone leave. She was right and I motioned for her to to follow but she already had the Zoigl in hand and was headed my way. The waitress understood and brought our already ordered food outside instead.
packed Biergarten & empty interior of Schwoahansl
About the only disappointment of the day was they didn’t have Schlachtschüssel. In fact, they mostly had cold dishes so we opted for one of the Zoiglstube standards, Geräuchertes. This is a gorgeous smokey ham. Though it varies from place to place, we haven’t found one we didn’t like. We also got a mixed meat plate. The two were more than enough to get us through a few Zoigl now that we had a primo seat outside. We probably stayed a bit longer than we should have but we wouldn’t have to rush the next day. It would be the same length hike but we’d be starting far earlier, even with a sleep-in.
Geräuchertes, mixed meat plate & Zoigl
After just that and a hearty breakfast, we were making our way out of scenic Falkenberg, seeing vantage points missed the evening prior, making mental notes to return to them at sunset the next time. In fact, it took us longer to get out of town than we’d ever imagined but managed to emerge into a portion of farmland before plunging into the lush Waldnaabtal.
scenes from exiting Falkenberg
The Waldnaabtal Nature Reserve is a noted highlight of the Goldsteig and heralded by gateway towns like Falkenberg as indeed the best slice. It was nicely sectioned with particularly scenic spots conveniently signed with descriptions (in German) of what you were looking at. It made the walk go even more quickly, aside from all too frequent stops to take photos.
the beautiful Waldnaabtal
We were soon at the Blockhütte, at one time a small forest refuge serving simple snacks, and now a full-blown restaurant that still looks like a cool hut, if decidedly larger. It was set in a lovely open area, still well-shaded by ample trees and had an old wooden water wheel down by the river, fascinating all kids who invariably ventured down there. Even if they still only had small snacks, it would be worth the stop to linger a little in this lovely spot but their hot meal menu was varied. We both opted for Roulade, a filled beef roll and it was excellent. We washed it down with a Fiedenfelser Zoigl, figuring it wouldn’t be an authentic one. We were right in our assumption and though not even in the Zoigl category taste-wise, it was none-the-less an excellent beer. Though a place to linger, we were still not quite half-way through our 14k hike and we still had two Zoiglstuben to hit once at our destination.
the old Blockhütte is still in place but now they use the new larger one
The second leg of the route started off pretty much the same as the trail we’d walked in on: lush and a green only found in places that get their fair share of rain. We, however, were glad for the cover as the day had warmed up considerably and after the hearty meal, we needed our energy unhampered by excessive heat or sun. After passing a few scenic bridges crossing the river, the trail started to climb. It was nothing sustained but after the nearly flat trail in and a very flat one the day before, it kind of caught us off guard. It opened into what appeared the last stretch, more a gravel road and we felt like perhaps the truly scenic part was over, as well as the work of going uphill. Of course, we were wrong, in both regards. We soon ducked into another patch of thick forest and the climbing started again. We knew well that our destination town of Neuhaus was on a hill as we’d climbed a steep one to get there the last time in the area. That was a short stroll from its sister town of Windischeschenbach that culminated in a 45° incline. So, we expected to have to do something similar before reaching our Zoigl oasis.
some scenic bridges in the Waldnaabtal
As anyone who hikes knows, it’s rarely that simple in the wild. We went up a few such hills and now that we were finally out of the forest, we wished it would return, and not only for the ambiance. It was the middle of the afternoon, the sun was blaring and to make matters worse, we were about an hour behind schedule to meet the owner of our holiday apartment. Too many photo opportunities and we hadn’t really factored in the time at the Blockhütte.
We were finally on the homestretch and though we felt like we’d done plenty of uphills to be on an even level with Neuhaus, there was a very similar 45° incline right at the end, totally exposed. Our packs weren’t overly heavy but we were sweating bullets none-the-less. Energy levels were low despite our hearty meals. Of course, all we’d really had was a lot of meat and simple carbs; tasty stuff here in Bavaria but not the best hiking fodder. It was hard to not think back to those carrots. Maybe I should have eaten more, or at least some today.
No worries. We were on level ground, asphalt at that in less time than I’m making it sound. We coasted to our apartment meet up and even passed the communal brew house, conveniently just up the road from where we’d be staying. When we got to the last turn, it was straight downhill but I’d kind of expected that. The top of Neuhaus isn’t all that big and on the map when renting the place, I’d seen it was probably not perhaps on that plateau. Besides, it was a great price and that usually comes with some down fall. There would be a couple more uphills, albeit short ones, in our day.
the beerwanderer’s wife enjoying a few moments of rest
It was a great little place with a nice outside sitting area overlooking the valley. That’s the good thing about hills. No rest for the weary though. After hot showers and a photo in the nice hammock chair on the veranda, we headed out to continue our Zoigl research. The plan was to start downhill in Windischeschenbach and work out way back to the Stube in Neuhaus, to make the trip home easier. As a noted second guesser, I then decided to stop in the Teicher Zoiglstube in Neuhaus for a quick one to get some photos while it was so gloriously sunny. The patio was quite busy, mostly full with a big table of guys on a stag/bachelor day out. They were quite drunk and my wife wasn’t enamored so it was easy enough to head out after one very tasty Zoigl. We knew we’d be back anyway and there was no way these guys were going to still be there in the shape they were in.
Teicher Zoiglstube & its tasty Zoigl
We wandered through the cute little town of Neuhaus towards an old remnant of its castle lookout tower, only to find it closed. Perhaps it was a good thing. That would have meant more climbing and the kind you can’t not do, to a scenic viewpoint. It was not only scenic but we discovered another way down to the next town, saving us some backtracking. Towards the end of the heavily treed trail, we saw a turnoff and it was the same trail we’d used to up to Neuhaus the first time in the area. Things started to come together in our minds and we knew that was the way we’d take later to get back to the Teicher.
Windischeschenbach looked a lot more friendly this time around, too. The sun does make a difference in your impression of a place, it’s undeniable. What was a bit of a stark, quirky stopover in winter was now a bright, cheery market town. The hiking aspect of the town obviously added a lot of luster and we knew we’d be back again. The Schlosshof Zoiglstube was on the edge of the small town but it obviously hadn’t deterred the locals, who were already packed into the fair-sized outdoor area. We grabbed one of the last tables and had their tasty Zoigl in front of us before we knew it and perused the menu for the evening feed. Disappointingly, there was no Schlachtschüssel once again. I’d already checked out the menu in Neuhaus, which only had simple fare. It wasn’t like this place didn’t have hot food, just not what I was hopping to finally try. The hot meal of the day didn’t interest us so we ordered a few cold plates and tucked into possibly our favorite Zoigl of the trip. The place was busy so the food took some time to come out but the Biergarten was full with colorful flowers and it was a perfectly warm day for sitting outside. It gave us plenty of time to check out the hot meal line-up for the entire weekend and Sunday looked like the winner, with both Schäuferla and Roulade on deck.
cold snacks, Zoigl & flowers
We enjoyed a few more Zoigl with our excellent cold dishes but headed back uphill to Neuhaus for a nightcap. We had already decided to abort our planned stop in Regensburg the next day for lunch and linger a bit in this area, returning to the Schlosshof for lunch instead. Teicher was predictably packed on our return. The stag party might have left but they were replaced by twice as many people so we had to seek refuge inside, which was also atmospheric. We made another mental note about it being a good winter stop, as well. We didn’t stay long and actually made it home before it got dark; one of the great things about the month of June in Germany is long days.
Teicher by Night
The next day we made the now familiar trek back down to the Schlosshof, this time with our packs. We’d be heading to the train after lunch. It was pretty early so not surprisingly uncrowded. We got a prime seat and soon enough it filled up despite being told by the waiter that the food wouldn’t start for about 45 minutes. We’d already ordered Zoigl but there wasn’t much choice. I’d scoped out the bakeries online and not one was open on Sunday so we hadn’t eaten any breakfast and it wasn’t likely anyone else was serving lunch at 10:45, either. An unhappy wife does not make a good drinking partner but all we could do was wait. After what seemed an eternity to her and a tasty Zoigl to me, the Rouladen came out. We were starving by then so I didn’t pay so much attention to her meal. Everything sure smelled great but soon enough I noticed my wife playing a bit with her food and then I saw it, unmistakably orange: shredded carrot. Not only on top of the rolled beef, but inside as well. It was rolled in with all the other typical ingredients like bacon, pickles and onions.
Eat your carrots perhaps, but not in Roulade if you want a happy wife
Let me make this clear, carrots are not a typical ingredient, at least not in my wife’s area of Saxony. If there is one thing Germans are more regional about than beer, it’s food. This didn’t bode well for the rest of the day. What had been an exceptional trip now seemed a bit tainted by an orange vegetable your Mom probably told you to eat as a kid, but my wife’s Mom wouldn’t have even thought of putting in her Rouladen. Needless to say, I never brought it up again and my guess is when I mention returning to the area for another hike, I sure won’t bring up Rouladen. I may have managed to eat my carrots and still drink my Zoigl but I won’t plan on doing it again. Now, Schlachtschüssel and Zoigl is another story and one I hope to tell next time.
So, what exactly is Zoigl, anyway?