While a big wooden barrel is not imperative to a great beer, there’s little denying the power of the image. Add to that a brass tap and it being driven in with a large wooden mallet and it’s the thing of beery legend. Anstich is one of those German words that flexes the power of the language, making the English “broaching” sound diminutive.
I still remember seeing the word for the first time. I was at the Kneitinger brewery in Regensburg with my then German girlfriend now wife when I saw the sign heralding an upcoming Bockbieranstich. She explained what it was though she’d never been to one. We went and were hooked.
I returned many years later, but early enough to catch the ceremonial parade where goats (Bocks in German) pulled a cart with the barrel to be tapped. On the same trip, I caught the tapping of Schlenkerla’s Ur-Bock in Bamberg.
Still, my favorite has probably been Zehendner’s tapping of their annual Weihnachtsbock in Mönchsambach. I’ve had the beer elsewhere but it never seems to taste as good as from the barrel that first day.
So, when I read about the 2nd annual Rauchbieranstich at another Franconian favorite Brauerei Knoblach in Schammelsdorf, I couldn’t resist. With beer hiking research to be done for an upcoming book, I decided to take advantage of the mild late winter weather and walk in from Memmelsdorf on the 13-Brauereienweg, effectively killing two beery birds with one stone.
some scenery from the 13-Brauereienweg on the way to Schammelsdorf
We arrived about 20 minutes before the Anstich only to find people already outside drinking. There was no sign of a big wooden barrel or more likely in a small village like this, a small plastic barrel that is formed to look like wood. There was a small dispensary to the rear, where the Rauchbier was on tap. There appeared to be no sign of the ceremony so we looked inside to find it busy with people drinking the beer in question. Since we had a reservation for 7 and it was just a little before 5, we decided to go check into our room, drop our gear off and return.
When we got back, there were a few more people outside and it was still early for our table, so we grabbed a couple and stood by one of the large cans of fire. Though a bit disappointed to have not only come all this way but also to have rushed a bit in hopes of the ritualistic Anstich, we had to admit that not only was this Rauchbier great but both the visual and olfactory smokiness of the flaming cans were pretty atmospheric. It was, however, getting cold and our newish down jackets had absorbed more than their share of smoke so we sauntered in for our table and a meal.
They had a rib special on and these were really excellent. My wife got a meal she rarely finds, leftover dumplings, fried and served over ham and eggs. It seemed the Rauchbier was a bit softer inside and I initially thought it might be from gravity dispense but on closer inspection, only their classic Lagerbier was being served that way. To be fair, it would be impossible for a brewery in such a small village to have four beers from “the barrel” and thankfully, they still go through the trouble of serving their main one that way.
Though I would have liked a true Anstich and to have seen this admittedly marvelous beer to be flowing from a wooden barrel, I’d not hesitate to return to this very local event. Around one of the barrels, we met the brewer from Brauerei Reh in nearby Lohndorf and he was a huge fan of this not overly smokey delight. There were parents with their kids running around, couples and small groups of guys all enjoying not only the beer but also the camaraderie of standing around on a cold winter night, drinking a great beer not on offer anywhere else. I guess that’s pretty special in itself.