On a slow train to Franconian Baden-Württemberg

I once thought that Franconia was the northern part of Bavaria and wrote a fairy tale-like intro to my website expounding so. It sounded poetic and cleanly organized but as with most fairy tales, it turns out to not be true and with this realization the pieces of Franconia do not fit as easily into neat little holes like so many pegs. I can thank my friend Jürgen for this squashing of my comfort zone. He’s from Middle Franconia and he started a couple years ago by showing me how much I’d missed by not paying closer attention to it rather than the more “famous” Upper Franconia where beer Mecca Bamberg is located.

fair tale Franconia vs historical Franconia

To defend myself, however futilely, legally speaking Franconia is how I initially envisioned it. Areas which were part of Franconia were largely redrawn legally into Bavaria, Thuringia and Baden-Württemberg thus ending the formal recognition of the Franconia Imperial Circle (known as Frankischer Reichskreis). Of course, legal borders are just that and these regions still share not only an emotional allegiance to Franconia but also similar dialects and cultural associations.

Spielbach was my first foray into the Frankischer Reichskreis

As only would be befitting, my first foray into this land “beyond the borders,” was with my friend Jürgen who painted such a vivid picture of what surrounded us en route that I knew I’d have to return. Our visit to the Gold-Oschsen in Baden-Württemberg sealed the deal. With COVID restrictions the last couple of years, it has more than slowed me down in my exploration of this area but I have a list of places from my friend that I very much have the intention of seeing for myself in 2022.  First up was Distelhausen in the Main-Tauber country of Baden-Württemberg, only formed in its current state since 1973.

Distelhausen: home to the Distelhäuser Brauerei

Jürgen extolled the virtues of the Distehläuser Brauerei and I planned an evening in the valley to explore. Since I don’t drive in Germany, my Franconian friend has often been generous enough to meet me at a central location and drive me to less easily reached breweries. On this occasion, however, he wasn’t available so I planned my route by public transportation. While Germany’s system is extensive and something to admire, getting to smaller towns can be a challenge and often the trips take a lot more time then by car. The route up from Munich went via Würzburg and though it would require two trains from there, it was a relatively simple journey with only four changes total. Of course, in the times of COVID, anything is possible and during the leg to Würzburg, I got a notice that the last leg was cancelled due to lack of staff, probably out due to having the virus. Though I could have walked from there, I was happy to find a bus waiting.

Distelhäuser’s copper kettles

The main reason for my urgency, besides the already long journey, was I had an appointment for a tour at the brewery. I’d seen some photos of copper kettles on their website and wrote them about getting some photos. I was happily surprised to get not only an affirmative answer but also the offer of a tour and beer tasting.

time for a tour

I decided to walk from the village I was staying in to Distelhausen to get a feel for the terrain and it was lovely, with rolling hills in all directions. This region is more noted for vineyards and it was easy to see why on this bright sunny day. My destination was, however, a brewery and even from the distance, its brewing chimney was evident as the the mid-sized operation is very much the focal point of the small village. I guess it’s not unusual since it’s been there since 1811.  On the way, I saw a sign for the Distelhäuser Bierwanderweg and my heart admittedly sank. How I had missed any mention of this 8 km circuit was beyond my comprehension but I had no time to cry over missed beer hiking routes.

the brewing chimney & missed hike

I had originally been slated for an English speaking guide but she was out sick. I was glad to meet the warm and welcoming Ilse, who thankfully spoke in high German so I was able to follow along. Franconia has many dialects and I’ve not got the hang of any of them. It really was a big operation and as Ilse explained while looking at crates of beer being sorted, when automation works well, it is something to see.  Afterwards, we adjourned to their cosy Distelhäuser Brauhaus for a tasting of their seven beers on tap. Ilse sat with me, explaining each beer and obviously enjoying them herself. She said she was happy she lived just up the road and could walk home. It sounded pretty idyllic to me as well. I couldn’t thank her enough for the great warm hospitality shown me by her company. While a relatively big operation, they took the time to correspond with me in English and give a private tour on a day when no tours are generally given. Hats off to the Distelhäuser Brauhaus.

 the beer tasting at the Distelhäuser Brauhaus

Ilse took her leave and I stayed for an incredible dinner. I walked home for some fresh air as I wouldn’t have time to do the local Bierwanderweg the next morning. When requesting my royalty statement for Beer Hiking Bavaria, I mentioned to the publisher I’d just returned from a great beer hiking destination in Baden-Württemberg. He jumped on the opportunity to ask me if I now was ready to write Beer Hiking BW as I’d turned him down a few years ago. At the time, I never thought I’d even consider it but as with all fairy tales, they can come true.

In the mood for more off the beaten path Baden-Württemberg? How about Spielbach?

Find breweries all over Franconia: Where the Brews are

Learn about beer styles in Franconia: ABeerC.

Food is half the fun in Franconia but what should you try?  The ABCs of Franconian Food

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

Don’t want to go it along, I’d love to show you the way: Guided Tours

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