Beers without borders

I looked out over the rolling countryside and for once didn’t wish I were out walking in it. True, it was dreary and raining but the real reason was my driver and guide. He was pointing out breweries in all directions. Not that they were anywhere in sight but that they were there, just over the horizon in any given direction, was without question the case. Now, if this had been in Upper Franconia, it wouldn’t have surprised me but we were weaving our way towards Baden-Württemberg, what was previously seen by me as a beer wasteland.  Jürgen knew otherwise and as chance would have it, it was a list of his top beers on the Franconian Beer Guide that planted the seed of the Gold-Ochsenbrauerei in a growing field of must get-to-for-me breweries.

the Gold-Ochsenbrauerei was calling

He further explained that while this area known as the Hohenlohe had partially become part of Baden-Württemberg, it is still part of Franconia and very much culturally so. Connected not only by their past and common Hohenlohisch dialect but also by some timeless beery gems like the pub we were about to be privileged to. I’d actually been in the quaint hamlet of Spielbach a few years earlier, only to find the pub closed so was happy to see the lights on within when we pulled up.

 an open door to another time

Since it was the day before Germany’s second COVID-19 lockdown was to start and a Sunday lunch, we’d made a reservation and were glad we had once we walked into the cozy but busy interior. The ceiling was very low and appeared precariously supported by one lone metal column. The Kachelofen was going and people animatedly interacted like sitting in their living room, having a meal. It not only looked like that but felt like it too. Of course, with a name like Carbonara, the woman seating and serving us didn’t have to check her book before showing us to what turned out a prime vantage point table.

a fire going at the Gold-Ochsen

In no time, a freshly poured Spezial hell was in front of us. It’s a hard beer to describe and perhaps Jürgen’s “it tastes like the countryside its brewed in” best does it justice. The malty but dry brew went down all too easily so some sustenance was in order. Jürgen had explained there was no menu or chalkboard so I listened intently to the few choices and at first opted for the Nierenbraten, before remembering that the reason it sounded familiar was from learning some German anatomy. While I’m an adventurous eater, I didn’t think this was the day to try kidneys. So, I quickly changed to a safer choice of Wildschweinbraten, in this case the more tame option. As a vegetarian in a meaty culture, Jürgen got Bratkartoffeln or Grääsda Ebbiern in the local dialect and different than any roast potatoes I’d ever seen. He said they were exactly like his grandmother used to make.  Since my meal came with a rich sauce and dumplings, it made me wish I’d ordered a Schnitzel and once I saw a pile of them served family style on a neighboring table with a big portion of the potatoes, even more so. We also got a dumpling soup, which came out in a huge serving bowl, big enough it seemed for a small family.

Gold-Ochsen delivers the goods

The Gold-Oschsen is the kind of place to lose hours in but I only had so many to spare that day. It was time to ante up and in a time capsule like this, even that would prove interesting. Rather than pay our server, we went back to meet the grand lady, a small-framed wiry-for-her-age woman with her hair pulled back tightly in a bun. She sat with a small metal box in front of her and Jürgen sat to exchange pleasantries and tell her not only what we’d consumed but how much we’d enjoyed doing so. She seemed pleased but unsurprised by our praise. I’m sure she hears it often. After I’d paid, Jürgen still needed to get his crate of beer. He’d oddly left his empty one outside on a stack of others. I had wondered why he hadn’t brought it in to be checked first but as it turns out, they not only don’t take a deposit but take your word for it that you brought it back. In fact, your word saying you’re bringing it back is what will get you a case in the first place. That is if she believes you. I imagine she’s a pretty good judge of character and some day I hope to put my word to the test but traveling by train precluded that.

time to ante up

I used the toilet while Jürgen put the case in the car. When I returned and went to sit down, I found a bottle of Spezial hell on my seat. Now, that’s a great guide.

Contact information for Gold-Ochsen.

I got back to Spielbach recently for their amazing Festbock. Read all about Fishing for a Bock without borders.

We finally got to hike out to Spielbach while spending the weekend in Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

2 thoughts on “Beers without borders

  1. When my German was not quite competent enough, I made the ‘nierenbraten’ mistake myself. Something about alpine-meadow fed cows in the description ;-/

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