Franconian beer: it’s easy as A, B, C. It’s simple as do reh me. 1, 2, 3. That’s how easy beer can be, now. Ok, maybe if that Michael Jackson had written the book, it might have been but the bard of beer MJ knew well that Franconia was a place where beer styles and names didn’t quite fit neatly like pegs into so many holes. I’ve shied away from putting it in words for that reason but I am finally going to make an attempt at making it as simple as possible by listing things alphabetically. This will be with very basic concepts for brevity and while I’ve tried over 1000 Franconian beers, I’m no expert in beer styles. Also, there is lots of overlap between the beers of Franconia and Bavaria but I’m going to try and stick to the former as it’s the premise of this site.  So, if you see a style missing, it may just be because it is not brewed in Franconia. If you see something amiss, please drop me a line to let me know. I can use all the help I can get.

Altbier. Yes, it’s most noted as THE beer of Düsseldorf and it’s extremely rare in Franconia but Brauerei Will in Schederndorf makes one and though I’ve never had it, their Landbier reminded me of an Alt. I have also had a bottled one called OSwALT from Kundmüller meant to be a one-off but now it appears to be a regular. Alt, as the name might forewarn, is an old form of beer as contrasted from what was once the “new” lager. It is one of the rare remaining ales (top-fermenting beers) in Germany. They are generally dark in color, about 5% and on the fruity/dry side. In Düsseldorf, it’s all you’ll get but don’t try ordering one in Franconia unless you know they have one.

unfiltered amber beer with big head in glass with bottle

Altfränkischesbier. Literally “old Franconian” beer, this is used a bit as a marketing ploy but one that does give an inkling as to what beer in Franconia was once upon a time (and still thankfully largely is):  not yellow.  Generally, they are amber in color, balanced and about 5%. Weissenohe’s Klosterbrauerei Altfränkisches Klosterbier is perhaps the most known but Stettfeld’s Adler-Bräu Altfränkisches Lagerbier near Bamberg is a great one too. You wouldn’t generally order it as such and in a place like Stettfeld, if you asked for a Bier, you’d get this lovely amber brew.

two fine “old” Franconian lagers

Bauernbier. Literally “farm” beer, the moniker should only be used by a countryside brewery and usually refers to their flagship brew. In Franconia, they seem to be on the amber to light brown side. So, much like Altfränkisches, more a name (and marketing image) than actual style. They hover around 5%.

Bier. Ok, not really a style but it’s interesting for two reasons. Despite its being spelled differently than in English, it is conveniently pronounced the same. The funny thing is if you order a beer in the UK, you’ll get an ale (a real beer!). If you order a lager, you’ll get some yellow fizzy crap that resembles nothing like you’ll find in Franconia. If you’re looking to have the main beer in a small Franconian pub, just order a Bier and you will get what nearly everyone else in the place is drinking. If you are unsure, it’s a good way to proceed and since it’s pronounced the same, you can’t really screw it up. Be forewarned, it can be any color and depends solely on the tastes of the locals. One other thing of note and to dispel a myth; Franconian beer (and German beer in general) is generally around 5%. There are stronger beers as you will see below and a very few weaker ones but generally speaking, it’s around 5%.

Bockbier. This the main style that is NOT 5%. They are almost always more than 6% and can get upwards of 7% but the latter ones usually have some other designation, such as Weihnachtsbock (for Christmas, instead of or even in addition to a Festbier). Bock is goat in German and the joke is they kick like a goat, and that’s no joke. At any rate, they make for good labels. In Franconia, the regular Bocks come out in autumn and are typically deep golden and most seem to be around 6.5%. All that said, Bocks can be any color from black to pale yellow. They can be kind of sticky affairs but the very best are sublime in their mix of malt and hops, and dangerously drinkable. Seek out Mönchsambacher Weihnachtsbock, Roppelt Bock from Stiebarlimbach or Müller Bock at the Schmausenkeller. A darker beauty is Schroll Bock out of Nankendorf. An old favorite of mine was Bamberg’s Klosterbräu Schwärzlabock, a black beauty which is no long brewed as of 2017.

a few of many great Franconian Bockbiers

Braunbier. This is another throwback to the good old days but still very much a style and while you don’t see many around nowadays, they are lurking here and there. If familiar with Märzen, they’re similar in their malty quality, are light brown to amber in color and generally around 5.5%.  Bamberg’s Klosterbräu Braunbier is a fine one and if in Bayreuth, try Schinner Braunbier. It’s contract-brewed but still a tasty tipple. One of my favorites was Acchönla from Forchheim’s Brauerei Eichhorn but they sadly closed in February 2022.

a trio of Braunbiers still lurking about

Dampfbier. This is Germany’s version of Steam Beer. So, if nothing else you learn that dampf is steam. This is only really produced in two towns in Bavaria and neither of them is in Franconia but you never know when you might need to know the name steam in German. Think Dampfbad if going to the Sauna.  It’s best to head to Zwiesel if interested as it’s next to the Bavarian Forest, there are ample hiking trails and it’s home to 1. Dampfbierbrauerei (originally Pfefferbräu).

The old Pfefferbräu changed its name to capitalize on it but it seems most locals drink their Helles.  Beer tourists, however, must flock there in summer. It’s also of interest as it’s top-fermented so another reason for it being a rarity in Bavaria.  It’s not particularly hoppy due to the fact that hops weren’t grown or readily available in this region. I was there once when I first explored Bavaria and just recently for my book Beer Hiking Bavaria. It’s not in Franconia but somehow the quirkiness of the style fits in. I wonder if it were a Franconian beer, would the locals drink it. Generally, they’re amber and 5%. In 2022, Bayer in Theinheim brewed a Dampfbier so while you may not see one there when you venture out, they did have one as at least a once-off.

Doppelbock. Sometimes literal is not the way to go as these are not double the strength of a Bock. They are typically around 7% but I’ve seen a few clock in at over 8%. They are dark affairs, reserved for the colder months. In Munich, they come out during the early part of Lent. As you might expect, they are big malty brews but the best have a nice dryness about them and their finishes are moreish.  It’s more of a southern Bavarian tradition, with Munich’s Paulaner brewing the original Salvator. Most Munich breweries add -ator to their versions in homage. There are some really good ones in Franconia if you are around when they are available. One favorite is Brauerei Martin’s Martini Bock. Oddly enough, Bamberg’s Fässla uses the -ator suffix in their Bambergator but it comes out in autumn like other Franconian Bockbiers rather than Lent like Salvator. It’s very strong but amply hopped so I quite like it. Increasingly, there are some untraditional Heller Doppelbocks popping up.

two very different Franconian Dopplebocks

Dunkles. Well, dunkel is dark so this is helpful in ordering beers but most will be thinking of Münchener Dunkles since it did evolve from the great lager innovating town. These are light to dark brown with a nice malty profile which often have hints of chocolate for good measure. The best also have a dry quality which makes them imminently drinkable. I hate when people say they don’t like dark beers or they aren’t good for summer. Just remember, once upon a time in Munich, the only beer at any Biergarten was a Dunkles. Now, they are sadly hard to find on tap in a Biergarten there. As you can probably tell, it’s one of my favorite styles and Franconia has some very tasty ones. While you find them elsewhere in the region, the best seem to be clustered in Franconian Switzerland. The more traditional ones are Held-Bräu Bauernbier Dunkel in Oberailsfeld,  Kathi-Bräu Dunkel in Heckendorf and Mager Dunkel in Pottenstein. On the drier side is Herold Beck ‘n Bier Vollbier in Büchenbach and the sublime Leupser Dunkel from Gradl in Leups. These last two could also be classified as Vollbiers but more on that later.

ah, what I love and luckily for me, my wife’s favorite style too

Export. This is more a style from Dortmund and is a golden colored beer of  5%, which from what I understand is quite good in its town of origin. I hope to get there one day. It is also used by breweries to connotate their beer is of exportation quality. In Franconia, you seem to see it used more on top of other names, particularly Export Dunkel. Ott Export, Wiesener Export and Huppendorfer Export are more traditional in style. Neder Export, called Fassbier at the brewpub, is a dry fruity variant. While most drink the Lagerbier at Zehendner in Mönchsambach, there’s no denying their Export is anything but the other beer. A darker one that otherwise seems hard to categorize is Trunk Export Dunkel from Vierzehnheiligen. Hofmann Export Dunkel from Hohenshwärz is truly a Dunkles.

all very worthy of being exported

Festbier. This is a large and quite general category. It’s basically a special beer for occasions (Fests) or times of year. You see a lot of them close to Christmas and the more commercial ones can be on the bland side but some in Franconia are fantastic. While commercial ones tend to be golden, they can be any color and hover around 5.5%.  One of my favorites is the very dark Maifest from Hofmann in Höhenschwarz. If you’re looking for a more traditional one, try Huppendorfer’s Weihnachtsfestbier or a hoppier one like Kaiser Festbier.  The unfiltered Roppelt Festbier is worth seeking out. The very interesting Stern-Bräu Festbier has a unique smoky quality.

five very different Franconian Festbiers

Gose. This is an oddity originally from Goslar in the north of Germany. Its current home is Leipzig and there are two breweries producing very good ones. It is a refreshing top-fermented beer made with some wheat like more prevalent Weizenbier. It has a sour and slightly salty flavor that really goes down on a hot day and is hence typically just below to 5%. I’d been there many years ago but a recent return was prompted by the style’s popularity in the US. To be honest, I’ve never had one in the US that tasted anything like the ones in Leipzig.

amber beer in wine glass with bottle

There is one small brewer in Franconia that is tapping into the American Craft Beer thing. Hertl Gurken Gose  also taps into the German love of pickles. We stopped by the brewery and since my wife is one of those Germans who love pickles, we had to buy a few. If you love pickles, you will probably like it and my wife did. I found it refreshing and interesting. I also thought it was as good as any of the American ones I had and much less expensive. That said, it was nowhere near as good as the ones in Leipzig so head to Ohne Bedenken when there.

Hefeweizen. The literal translation works here as this is indeed a beer where there is even sensory evidence of the yeast involved and it’s made with wheat. Generally shortened to Weizen in Franconia and Weißbier in southern Bavaria, it’s a fruity, refreshing top-fermented beer of about 5-5.5%.  In modern times, Franconia was never a hotbed for this style but in recent years, it has gained popularity and there are some fine examples. Since it is bottle-conditioned, it is considered best in that form, something rare in Germany.  For this reason as well as Munich’s Schneider being my favorite and local for me, I don’t tend to drink it on tap while in Franconia. I have started to bring bottles home. If something sounds particularly interesting or I’ve heard it is a must-drink one, I’ll give in while there.  Gutmann Hefeweizen is one of the most popular. Huppendorfer Weizenbier is another winner from Grasser and I’ve recently had Held-Bräu Weizen too

Franconia has no shortage of good Hefeweizens

Hellerbock. Literal perfection meets beer perfection here. These light colored Bocks are perhaps the most approachable of all Bocks. They are the most popular in Franconia, odd since it’s an area where amber beers seem the norm. No matter, the best of these mix malt and hops about as well as can be done. They can be on the sweet side otherwise, but when the brewers don’t shy away from adding more hops on top of the more malt they need to up the alcohol content required of the style, the results can be sublime. While they can be unfiltered, the style seems to scream for a clear golden hue. They’re generally around 6.5% but they go upwards of 7%. Favorite balanced ones from Bamberg include Mahrs Bock and Keesmann Bock. They brew some great ones in the countryside as well. Ott Bock is nice but Huppendorfer Josefibock is one of my favorites. On the hoppier side is the tasty Knoblach Bock from Schammelsdorf.

 Franconia is home to some wonderful Hellerbocks

Heller Doppelbock: This is a style I am increasingly seeing in Franconia. While Doppelbocks have traditionally been dark, once a Hellerbock goes above 8%, can you realistically still call it a mere Bock? While Lang-Bräu Heller Bock is “only” 7.5%, it does have a lot of alcohol in the flavor. It’s labeled a Bock but also says it’s a real Heller Doppelbock in smaller print. Less uncertain is Meinel-Bräu Heller Doppelbock, a dangerously drinkable 8%.

increasingly, we are seeing Heller Doppelbocks

Helles. Much like Dunkles, Helles is a Munich thing. Now, we’re talking light. Yellow to golden and generally around 5%, this is by far the most popular brew in Bavaria but it wasn’t always the case. Though it was introduced in Munich in the late 1800s, it didn’t overtake Dunkles until the 1940s. As for Franconia, it’s still far from the most popular but I’ve seen more and more of them every year. It’s not that there weren’t golden or yellow beers there before, but they weren’t as malt forward and certainly weren’t called Helles. On my first trips to Franconia, I never sought them out and to be honest, I’ve only started trying them there in the last few years. Since I live in Munich, drinking Helles in Franconia seemed like a waste of time. Now, I’ve grown to appreciate them and while it’s not my first choice, I have found some which are quite good. It’s another style I’ve mostly had in bottles brought back home but I do enjoy Held-Bräu Hell when there and Sonne Lager Hell is most refreshing.  Mahrs Helles is quite good as is Staffelberg-Bräu Helles. Both of the latter add Vollbier to their names but more on that below. I find both of them to be truly Munich-like Helles.

Helles is gaining popularity in Franconia

Kellerbier. This is one of the harder ones to pigeon-hole as it’s often used interchangeably with and is somewhat related to both Zwickelbier and Ungespundetesbier. It’s an unfiltered beer with some yeast sentiment of about 5%. It should have a relative low carbonation as traditionally it would be served via gravity dispense barrel. I’ll talk about the other two styles in the respective letters below to avoid confusion.  Since they’re not pasteurized, they are generally more perishable and should be drunk fresh. Kellerbiers can vary in color but tend to be amber to brown in Franconia. It’s hard to really tell as they are typically served in ceramic mugs called Krugs to protect them from the sun. Of course, the best place to do this is at a Bierkeller. Two of the best and most traditionally served are Gries Kellerbier at the Griess Keller and Müller Kellerbier at the Schmausen Keller. Other excellent examples include: Eichhorn Kellerbier, Roppelt Kellerbier, the ligher colored Lieberth Kellerbier, Dinkel Kellerbier Dunkel, Hetzel Kellerbier and Weiherer Kellerbier.

hard to find better Kellerbiers than in Franconia

Lagerbier. This is a term that has kind of fallen out of favor in most of Germany but it lives on strongly in Franconia. Once upon a time, all beer was ale or top-fermented. Munich is credited with “discovering” lager or bottom-fermented beer. These “new” beers were stored (lagered in German) at cooler temperatures in caves. The rest is history. Lager took off and it wasn’t until the US craft beer revolution in the 1980s that ales came back to the forefront. This in no way is a slight to English and Belgian ale as I love both. It’s just that lager pretty much dominated beer prior to it becoming what looked like a fad in the US. At any rate, you never need to ask for a lager in Germany as that is mostly what you will get. Even if you see Lagerbier on the menu, you can just ask for a beer. So, what does it mean in Franconia? Well, just about anything but they are generally around 5%. There are some noted ones and they seem to be on the darker side but that is certainly not a hard rule.  Krug-Bräu Lagerbier is wondeful example of a dark one and Metzgerbräu Lagerbier is a great hoppy amber example. Reichold Lager is more balanced.  Fässla Lagerbier is dry.  Hönig Lagerbier, always served in a Krug and from gravity dispense, is more of a Kellerbier but I’m putting it here just so you know there’s no easy categorization in Franconia. Mönchsamber Lagerbier from Zehendner is just plain delicious.

don’t be afraid of lager, even if it is dark

Landbier. This is yet another “more of a marketing ploy than actual style designation.” See Bauernbier above and you get the idea. It’s a beer of the land or countryside and they really are the only breweries that should use it. Otherwise, it’s all a marketing ploy.  I quite like Schederndorfer Landbier Dunkel and Stöckel Landbier from Hintergereuth. Many Franconian’s favorite Schroll Landbier is an amber treat.  Weber-Bräu Landbier is now contract-brewed but it’s a hoppy example. Witzgall in Schlammersdorf makes an excellent and often overlooked unfiltered and light colored Landbier, too. So, this is not really a style but you’ll see it a fair amount once you get out of the towns and into the villages.

Märzen. This is a style with an interesting history even if it’s not nearly as prevalent in Franconia as it once was. It’s tied to Bavaria since due to fires caused by brewing, it was forbidden to brew between the end of March and the end of September. They were brewed with more malt and extra hops to help them last all summer. These were the beers served at the orginal Oktoberfest as it was the only beer left after the long non-brewing summer. Unfortunately, they are no longer used and inferior Festbiers have replaced them. Märzens can range in color but are generally deep gold to amber and clock in at around 5.6%. They are richly malty with the best exhibiting some spiciness. It can be a sweet style but if there are enough hops in the mix, it can be a beautiful beer. It was one style I got into when I first traveled around Bavaria as it was mentioned in a guide I had at the time. It was a bit out of date and the writer often talked about a hoppy Märzen but I rarely found one, and often felt the beers had been dumbed down to appeal to more people. There are some fine ones in Franconia and Middle Franconia in particular has a penchant for them. Two I like from there are Wettelsheimer Märzen and Schneider-Bräu Märzen. They are malty treats but avoid being sticky. A relatively recent one for me is the malt-forward Ulrich Martin Spezial from Lower Franconia. In Upper Franconia, Huppendorfer Märzen is gorgeous and Staffelberg-Bräu Märzen is quite good though I haven’t had the pleasure of having on tap. Knoblach Ur-Märzen is quite hoppy for the style and is unusually unfiltered.

 marvelously malty Märzen

Maibock. Another good literal name, a Bock for May but as is typical of the German scheduling Gods who put the Oktoberfest in September, most come out in April and finish up around the middle of May. So, make sure to inquire before heading somewhere for this seasonal treat. Since it’s a spring Bock, you’d imagine it to be a Hellerbock but there are as many dark ones as light. Munich’s Hofbräu Maibock claims to be the first and it is on the dark side of amber. Two of my Franconian favorites are quite dark and conveniently in the neighboring villages of Leups and Büchenbach but they are very much short term affairs. Leups Maibock often runs out in a matter of days and sometimes doesn’t even make it to May 1st. Herold Maibock may last a bit longer but don’t expect to find it through the month. Staffelberg-Bräu Mai-bock is more what you imagine one to be and as is typical of Zehendner, their Mönchsambacher Maibock will have you contemplating the nature of the universe and why every month isn’t May.

 it’s hard to not love May in Franconia

Pils. This should be a more straightforward style but nothing is quite so in Franconia. The original Pilsener is from the Czech town of Pilsen. It is credited with being the first light colored lager. Germans were so enamored with it they decided to make their own but they were quite different. German Pils are lighter bodied, drier and perhaps more hoppy. Well, the best ones. They are more an aperitif kind of drink whereas the original from Czech is fuller, a bit fruitier and very much a session beer. In fact, many say it’s one of the very best. Franconian ones seem to be a bit more aligned with the Czech version so many say they aren’t hoppy enough. I would agree when they aren’t the best and I’ll also have to say that many are not the best.  That’s when I like to say, it would make a good Helles. When you do get a good Franconian Pils, they are quite good and are very much sessionable brews. Keesmann Herren Pils from Bamberg is the classic and the brewery across the street does a pretty fair one too, Mahrs Pils.  In the Gräfenberg area, you’ll find two good and quite different ones, the more typical Friedmann Pils and the unfiltered and Craft Beer inspired Elch-Bräu Pils. Two excellent bottled ones I’ve not had the pleasure of drinking on tap yet are Hetzel’s Fraunendorfer Pils and Eichhorn Pils from Dörfleins. I’ve only had Kaiser Pils once but it left an impression on me and the “Kellerfrisch” Pils, direct from the cellar at Göller in Zeil am Main really hit the spot. Of particular interest is the gravity dispensed version of Wagner-Bräu Pils if you make it to their pub in Kemmern.

 when you find a good Pils in Franconia, it’s good

Rauchbier. The literal translation works well again but it’s smoke beer, not smoked beer as most refer to it. Not only is this how the language works (it’s not geräuchertes Bier), but also how the beer is made. The beer is not smoked, the malt is and that is prior to the brewing process. No matter, Rauchbier sounds much cooler and since it’s the style which defines Franconia in the eyes of the world, it’s one to know. As you might imagine, making beer back in the olden days was surely much more difficult than today and the malting process involved fires, which generally necessitated wood. Where there’s wood, there’s smoke and smoke tends to impart flavor. So, it’s imaginable that much of early beer, at least when fire was used in the malting, had some kind of smoky element. Of course, that’s not necessary now but some of the breweries in Franconia still used it, and much to their advantage in creating some world classic brews. It’s likely that every beer tourist (and most of the regular tourists) has one thing they have to try in Bamberg: Rauchbier. Schlenkerla Märzen is that one beer and their atmospheric pub is another can’t miss experience. It’s the last of the wood barrel experiences in town so enjoy while you can. Always check for the seasonal (also amazingly from the barrel). Perhaps one notch down on the fame level is many people’s favorite, Spezial Lagerbier, which is less smokey but no less tasty. Klosterbräu Rauchbier is the new kid on the Bamberg Rauchbier block but it’s excellent nonetheless. I had Gänstaller Rauch Märzen at Cafe Abeits in Bamberg recently and it was really gorgeous.  These are typical Rauchbiers. They tend to be dark with the newer additions being quite dark to nearly black. They also hover around 5%. While many find the taste quite strong, locals drink it like any other beer and I’ll have to say, I find it quite a session beer myself.

the big Bamberg Rauchbiers plus Gänstaller from Schnaid

There are also some Rauchbiers with a bit less smoke, running the gamut of colors. Hummel Räucherla from Merkendorf looks a bit like the Bamberg Rauchbiers and is probably closest to Spezial, with a nice mix of hops and smoke. Knoblach Rauchbier is hoppy, typical of the brewery. Huppendorf Grachäds is a great session Rauchbier if you’re lucky to be in the village when on tap. Drei Kronen Stöffla (a smoke Kellerbier) from Memmelsdorf is another great introduction to the style. If in Kemmern and you can pry yourself away from the two gravity barrel beers, Wagner-Bräu Kuckuck, also on regular tap, is a fine one too. I’ve only had a bottle of it once, but Reh Rauchbier is a very night lightly smoky brew.

some less smoky alternative Rauchbiers

Rauchbock. If you haven’t had enough of Rauchbier and you are there during Bockbierzeit, by all means dive right into some of the best. As you might imagine, Schlenkerla is no slouch. Their Ur-Bock remains my favorite and their Rauch Dopplebock Eiche is a smoky sipper. Sometimes overlooked, Spezial Rauchbock is another winning entry from the “other” Rauchbierbrauerei. Hummel Räucherator is another heavy one as the -ator suffix warns. Just like regular Bocks, they’re well over 6% with the Dopplebocks over 7% and up to 8%. Just like regular Rauchbiers, they are amber to dark brown. I haven’t seen a black one yet but maybe Klosterbräu will do one.

 Rauchbocks are a great cold weather retreat

Rotbier. If you like Märzen, you’ll probably like “red beer.” Not to be confused with the red ales of Belgium, this style originated in Nürnberg and was the first competitor to the supremely popular Weißbiers (white beers) of the day. Unlike the wheat beers, these were brewed exclusively with barley, something novel at the time. Also, unlike their wheat counterparts, they are now bottom fermented even if they would have originally been top fermented as were all beers at the time.  As the name implies, they have a red appearance and are around 5%. They tend to be on the malty side since wheat beers were the beer of choice and were also low on the use of hops. It’s a style that is getting some momentum from the Craft Beer craze finally hitting Germany.  In Nürnberg, try the original of the new ones, Das Rote at Hausbrauerei Altstadthof,  Schanzenbräu Rotbier at their retro pub, Bruderherz Roter Lui or Tucher Orginal Rotbier to see what all the fuss is about. In the countryside, check out Geyer Rotbier or Eller Rote.

Schankbier. This is a style that has sadly nearly disappeared. Between 2.5 and 3.5% alcohol, it seems to have been replaced by the Radler, a mix of lemonade (think Sprite if American) and beer. I hate the latter and since I don’t drive in Germany, I don’t necessarily need a Schankbier but it’s sad it’s not an option at Biergartens for people on bikes who don’t like something sweet put into their beer. I saw one at the Schönram brewery in southern Bavaria. My driver had one and said it was really good. I took a sip and have to say it was very tasty for a beer under 3%. You probably won’t see one in Franconia but if you’re looking for something with less alcohol, you could ask. They’ll probably laugh at you but maybe they’ll get the idea they can make money on selling weak beer.

Schwarzbier Black beer sure sounds good and while not really a Bavarian style, it has become a bit more popular in the last few years and there are a few old standbyes which can compete with the best. An ancient style from Thuringen and Saxony in the Middle Ages, these ales resembled stouts from their use or roasted malts.  As with most ales from Germany’s past, they turned into lagers and are the darkest of them. They are full-bodied and around 5%. They have a roasty palate though are not always particularly hoppy. One of my very first was the once seminal Mönchof Schwarzbier, a dry roasty treat.

the black beauties of Franconia

Klosterbräu Schwärzla from Bamberg is one of the longest running in Franconia and remains one of the best. Forchheim has the beloved Neder Schwarze Anna, a favorite at the Annafest. Town rival brewery Greif now has Greifla to compete and it’s good. Dremel Schwarzes was good the one time I had it, but I’m not sure if it was a one-off. My favorite is Weiherer Schwärzla, which uses some fair hopping along with the creamiest texture of the lot.

Starkbier. Strong beer is an overall category and used mostly in Munich to talk about Starkbierzeit, the strong beer time. This falls during Lent, a time when these strong beers were used to offset giving up food. Thus came the term “liquid bread” and now there are festivals like smaller Oktoberfests where beers in the 7% range are served in liter mugs. Bockbiers are Starkbiers but you don’t generally hear the latter term used in Franconia. In case you see it, you might want to know what you’re getting yourself into.

Ungespundetes.  This is similar to Kellerbier but refers more to the process of fermentation when it was done in the barrel. The bung hole was left “unbunged” to keep it from bursting due to pressure, thus letting off a lot of the carbon dioxide. This resulted in lower carbonation and a less gassy beer. This in turn let the drinker taste the flavors more naturally. The area around Bamberg is the sole remaing one using this term. Mahrs “U” is surely the most known though now that it’s no longer served gravity dispense, it’s perhaps not the most pure example. Spezial U shows that the beers are most linked by process and low carbonation rather than flavor.  Perhaps closer to the original interpretation is Wagner-Bräu Ungespundetes Lagerbier, with it being served gravitiy dispense at the brewpub in Kemmern. Another great one is the hoppy Knoblach Ungespundetes Lager, direct from the tank. If doing the Dorf Breweries Tour, check out both Wagner Lagerbier Ungespunden. So, as you can see, it’s not easy to corrale this group. They vary in color but are all around 5%. They vary in hopping but are all low on the carbonation scale. Kellerbier vs. Ungespundetes? They’re very similar perceptually and should be unfiltered and low in carbonation. I always feel a Kellerbier should be hoppy but this is a style many big breweries are cashing in on and I’ve had some incredibly bland ones too.

 some of the “Ungespundetes” beers in the area around Bamberg

Vollbier. Perhaps the most confusing of all beer names and mostly no longer used outside of Franconia. It’s not a full beer as in twice as much as a half beer. That would be too easy. Breweries use the term to refer to their full strength and thus full-flavored beer. It would contrast with say, their Schankbier, a weaker and surely less flavorful beer. Unfortunately for me, even though I’d read books saying as much and that it meant nothing with regard to color, I took that to mean a dark beer. It probably didn’t help that many of the first I had were on the darker side but I can’t use that as an excuse because the very first was Witzgall Vollbier, a decidedly golden brew. Two classics are Huppendorfer Vollbier and Lindenbräu Vollbier, both amber nectars of the gods and ones best sampled at their respective brewpubs. Also, head to Hetzeldorf to try the marvelous Penning Vollbier or Ebing for the hoppy Schwanen-Bräu Vollbier, two more in the darker fold. Slighly lighter in color but not flavor is Frauendorfer Vollbier.  Golden ones I’ve found to be very tasty include: Hölzlein Vollbier from Lohndorf, Stern-Bräu Vollbier  from Schlüsselfeld, Alt Vollbier Hell from Dietzhof and Schrüffer Vollbier from Priesendorf. When I got a dark beer at Schrüffer, I assumed it was the Vollbier but later found out it was a special Festbier. That shows you I still have my preconceptions despite knowing better. What’s a Vollbier. They can be pretty much any color but hover around 5%. The amber ones seem to be maltier but not sweet in any way. The best are on the dry side and are very much full in flavor. How do you know when you get a good one? You want another.

 Vollbier may be just a name but full in flavor just the same

Weizen/Weißbier. See Hefeweizen above for more details on this style. As mentioned, it’s called Weizen in most of Germany and it’s perhaps more appropriate as it is a wheat beer. In southern Bavaria, it’s always called Weißbier, a reference to its “white” appearance due to it being cloudy.

It’s a beer with a long history, predating the Reinheitsgebot. Actually, this law regulating the ingredients of beer had to be amended to allow its brewing as wheat was not part of the original plan. It’s by far the most popular of the top-fermenting German beers, especially in Bavaria but this was not always the case. While it was popular enough in the 1500s to amend the law, it fell very much out of favor by the mid 1970s and if not for then Munich brewery Schneider, it might have ceased to exist. Marketed as a healthy beer due to the yeast, it ushered in an acceptance of cloudy beers. In fact, in Munich, it is second only to Helles as the most popular style.  It wasn’t always the case in other parts of Germany. My father-in-law didn’t like it but now the previously Pils-drinking Saxon only drinks Weißbier. There are some very nice variations in Franconia like the hoppy Weiherer Sommerweizen and Staffelberg-Bräu Weißbier from Loffeld.

a few Weizen variations

Weizenbock. As the name implies, these are Bocks made with wheat. The original is Munich’s Schneider Aventinus, a dark contemplative brew. This is the only link to a non-Franconian beer I’ll put in this piece. It’s an amazing beer and since it spawned a whole style, I think its deserving.  Weizenbocks have a full spectrum of colors and are between 7% and 8%. They have very complex flavor profiles and since they are bottle-conditioned, it’s not particularly advantageous to have them on tap.  The style is becoming more popular in Franconia but as with most of the newer ones in Bavaria, they trend to the lighter dimension color-wise. I recently had the amazing Ulrich Martin Weizenbock and Weiherer Weizenbock is actually a treat on tap. Two other noteworthy ones are Sonnen-Bräu Weizenbock , from Mürsbach, and Held-Bräu Weizenbock, from Oberailsfeld.

 the popularity of Weizenbock is on the rise

Zoigl. I have seen the occasional bottle of commercial Zoigl in Franconia but I haven’t been impressed with the ones I’ve tried. First off, it’s not a beer suited for bottling. Zoigl is an entire culture and resides in its purest form in the Upper Palatinate, a region of Bavaria right next to Franconia. To get into detail here wouldn’t make sense but if interested, please read my Brief History of Zoigl in Time.

 Zoigl is a way of life as much as a beer

Zwickel/Zwickl. The is the last piece of the Kellerbier/Ungespundetes/Zwickel confusing trio. They are related and the names are often used interchangeably, especially by large breweries trying to cash in on the old styles. In this way, Kellerbier and Zwicklbier are pretty much the same.  A Zwickelhahn was a small syphon used to take beer from the fermentation barrel. Zwickl is just a dialect spelling difference with the same pronunciation. They vary in color and sometimes, a brewery will even have a dark and light variety of Zwickl. Since they traditionally weren’t stored as long, they tended to be weaker but that is no longer the case and it seems most are around 5%. These beers should always be cloudy and from my experience aren’t as hoppy or full-flavored as Kellerbiers. Well, I should probably say good Kellerbiers. The best one I’ve had is Dremel Helles Zwicklbier and both Nikl-Bräu Zwickl and Aufsesser Zwickl are worth trying. Confused about the difference between Zwickelbier, Kellerbier and Ungespundetesbier? Don’t get in a pickel over a Zwickel.  Just ask for a beer. In Franconia, you can’t go wrong.

 don’t let Zwickel get you in a pickel

1, 2, 3…..you and me.

If you’re still thirsty, check out Looking for Mr. Good Beer for all the Franconian beers I’ve sampled.

To search for breweries and learn more about them, go to Where the Brews Are.

Heading to Bamberg? Don’t leave home without The Pocket Guide to Bamberg’s Best Beer.

In Franconia, the food is as good as the beer: The ABCs of Franconian Food.

For more information on hiking and breweries in Franconia and Bavaria, please consider consulting my book, Beer Hiking Bavaria oder auf Deutsch: Bierwandern Bayern.

beer hiking bavaria book coverbierwandern bayern buch


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