To say I was disappointed was an understatement. To even the casual observer I must have looked deflated. Here on the door was a sign even worse than Betriebsurlaub (company holiday) and one seen more and more since COVID stretched businesses thin. Bis weiteres auf geschlossen is even seen on Google Maps, closed until further notice. You know things are bad when even they don’t know when it will reopen. It wasn’t really the end of the world I’m making it out to be. There are four breweries along the Ehingen Bierwanderweg, not counting relative newcomer Goldener Adler. What’s a Bierwanderweg? It’s a beer hiking trail and this is one of the very first, dating back to 2009, pieced together by the town’s innovative tourist bureau. They’ve done a great job of promoting their little town as a beer destination. In fact, when I started Beerwanderers and Googled Beer Hiking, they were what came up.
I’d already walked by both Brauerei Schwert and Gasthof Schwanen as they were on the way from my hotel to my hoped and now evidently closed for lunch stop. Their Bierwanderweg not only takes in the countryside around Ehingen but walks you through the cute little town itself so I’d taken it to get some photos of the breweries on the route. I knew Brauerei Schwert wasn’t open until dinner from the town’s informative brochure on the the hike and its breweries’ opening hours. Still, there’s nothing like seeing a sign in the window and I now knew where I’d eat dinner. Brauerei Schwanen was open but a more modern affair with a relatively expensive hotel attached. It’s not what I look for when beer hunting but is certainly very popular.
an impromptu brewery tour & a great first beer
With Gasthaus Zum Rössle closed, I found myself hungry and thirsty. I noticed a small outside seating area in front of the actual brewery just next door. I peeked in and inquired about the restaurant to confirm it being closed and the brewer sadly said it indeed was. He then said I could get a beer from him and sit across the street. Not only that, it was on tap. So much for being thirsty. I was soon sitting in the sun drinking their Kellerbier. If there were better beers than this on this trail, I was in for a very good day. Since he didn’t have much to do, he started up a conversation and was quite used to an influx of beer tourists, though perhaps not during the week. He explained this this was their Craft Beer take on a Kellerbier. It’s called Weißes Ross in the bottle but I noticed it was just called Kellerbier on the sign in the restaurant window. It’s not some high flying Cascade hops concoction. It’s just an excellent hoppy Kellerbier, not overly bitter but quite dry. He offered to show me the brewery so we did a quick tour and he explained that there were plans to reopen the restaurant in the next few weeks. By all means, make your way there and if not, look for the brewer to get your hands on this lovely beer. It’s not available on tap anywhere else.
time to hit the trail
With my thirst quenched, I needed to take care of my hunger as it was growing. I’d planned on doing the larger part of the loop to the nearby village of Berg, leaving the shorter part for the return home but that was before I found out eating before the hike wasn’t going to happen. Plans are great but as John Lennon said, life is what happens to you while you’re busing making other plans. The walk out of town was charming and I was soon out in the countryside. As with all formal beer hikes in Germany, the route is pieced together from existing trails. If you see a scallop shell sign and there’s a good chance you will, you’re on the Jabobsweg, or St. James Way. This ancient religious pilgrimage route typically passes by monasteries and they generally have (or at least had) a brewery. Another given is you’ll probably cross a river and in these parts, it’s the Donau.
the much welcomed sight of an open brewery
In about an hour, I was looking at a very much open Brauerei Berg. This was actually the first thing I knew about this area. I’d seen one of those ridiculous 100 blah blahs to do before you die books and in this case it was beers to drink. One of them was Berg Ulrichsbier. Most of the beers on the list I knew, many I’d had but this one I’d never heard of. I had to have it. It just took me a decade to get here. I couldn’t have it first and thankfully their restaurant serves .3L servings so I opted for a thirst quenching Weissbier. When I ordered my Schnitzel, I got two more: their Helles (O-Hell) and and unfiltered one in the Zwickel family called Jubel Bier. I’d obviously sat outside but took a gander in to see the quite modern interior. It was tastefully done and certainly in a traditional vein but a bit too squeaky clean to harken you back to former times.
the traditionally modern interior & a few more small ones
While it’s nice they have small pours, the shape of the glass and the rush to get them served led to mostly fizzy unimpressive looking beers. There wasn’t anything wrong with any of the beers but none had blown me away. It was time to move onto full pours and next up was their seasonal Herbst Gold, reminding me that it was indeed the end of summer. This one looked much better and was surprisingly full-flavored for 4.1% but it was again too gassy despite being in a wide pint glass.
Herbst Gold, Ulrichsbier & Berg Pils
It was finally time to get Ulrichsbier and it was the best pour of the day, finally delivered without extra fizz. It was also the most balanced and best beer. I quite liked it even if I’m not sure if dying without having had it would have made me feel incomplete. As good as it was, I was too full to have another and I finished off with a decent Pils as a digestif. I still had the meat of the hike to do so off I set.
a lovely countryside stroll & some locals
The rest of the hike was very pretty but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was a hot slog back. There were certainly some atmospheric countryside moments, walking along the corn and being investigated by the local goats.
the pretty landscape of Ehingen
Two hours later I was sitting in a little makeshift Biergarten on the man-made Groggensee in the city park. It was actually a lot nicer than that description and locals were enjoying the good weather. I was disappointed to find only bottled beer but grabbed a Rössle Edel Hell and a good seat in the shade. I’d had enough sun on the hike. The beer was very disappointing, actually worse than any of the Berg beers. It showed me it wasn’t just the Rösslebräu I’d been impressed with earlier but that particular Kellerbier. I poured half of it into the convenient grass below my table. Life’s too short to drink bad beer, especially when there’s another brewery just up the street.
the cute little lakeside Biergarten
I was happy to find Brauerei Schwert open but surprised to walk into a totally empty restaurant. It was a classic old school place, not done up since the 70s but still exuding a particular charm. A friend had told me it was his favorite and I could see why. The brewer was manning the taps and took ages to bring out his beautiful, perfectly poured beer, a majestic Lager Hell. It was every bit as good as it looked too. I wasn’t super hungry but knew I should eat something small so I ordered some fried eggs with potatoes. Well, I’d thought it would be small but was proven wrong yet again. I asked for another beer even though I hadn’t finished the first. I knew how long it was going to take. No one pours a beer better than the person who brews it.
this is what I was looking for all along
The sensible person would have headed home at that point but I just had to go back to my first stop to see which was the best beer. Up until Schwert, I had a clear winner but now I was unsure. To be honest, I was surprised to find it still open and there was a table of locals enjoying the fine beer too. The brewer was happy to see me back and asked about my hike and the beers. He was particularly interested in Berg as he’d said they brewed the modern way, not like he did. I had to admit none of the beers were anywhere near as good as his. I neglected to tell him about the Rössle beer I’d had in the park. There’s no need to stir things up when you’re going to say the beer you’re drinking at that very second is your favorite of the whole day.
Epilogue: The brewer let it slip that a small pub called Heilig’s Blechle had the Weißes Ross in bottles and sometimes even on tap in case I hadn’t had enough. I had but I still couldn’t resist walking over. It was practically on my way back to the hotel anyway. It was thankfully closed but it was right next to Brauerei Schwanen and how could I resist making sure I’d had the best beer? Their Jubel Dunkles Export was decent if fizzy. I think I had a winner. A sure thing. The White Horse by a nose over Schwert Lager Hell. Berg Ulrichsbier was ahead of the pack but far behind the front runners.
Info on the Ehingen Bierwanderweg & the breweries on it: www.bierkulturstadt.ehingen.de
*On the way home, I stopped in Wassertrüdigen for the night to visit the Forstquell Brauerei.
In the mood for more of Baden-Württemberg breweries? How about Schwäbisch Hall?
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.