I live in Munich so it should come as no surprise that I went to the Oktoberfest this year. That this particular one was in the small Lower Franconian village of Köslau, some 3.5 hours north of my adopted hometown, might be more so. Why you might ask travel so far when the Big Show is so close at hand? High prices and under pours at my local Fest might be a valid answer but the time and money involved in such a trip would surely not offset even the most extortionate Mass. No, the lure of a new beer and perhaps more importantly a beer adventure is the more likely answer and this one had all the ingredients.
Is the Wiesnbier actually worth 5x as much?
As chance would have it, I was in Franconia for a tour that weekend anyway, leading a fun group of Americans around the Fünf Seidla Steig®. That said, it did mean getting up quite early the next morning to make my way to Ebelsbach, outside Bamberg.
fun loving Americans on their Beerwanderers Fünf Seidla Steig® Experience
Why I was off to Ebelsbach is the answer to how I was going to this off-the-beaten-path Oktobefest in the first place. A good friend who lives in this Lower Franconian village recently joined the Köslauer Rennweg Brauer, a relatively new, up and coming communal brewery. He was my in to not only this event but to numerous others over the past few months, sometimes when we were the only people from outside a given village to attend. José was to work the evening shift at the festival but wanted to head out early to sample the brewery’s new Weißbier as there would only be 40 liters of it and it was to be served with a traditional Weißwürstfrühstück. Now, I’m a big fan of the latter but I was skeptical it was being served at a Franconian festival but he assured me that it was routinely eaten in the area even if a Bavarian specialty.
an elaborate set-up before the crowds arrive
We arrived quite early to find it mostly empty aside from those adding some nice finishing touches to the surprisingly elaborate set-up. Besides the typical Biergarten style benches you find at these things, they had a fairly large beer tent with an impressive sound system in place along with stand up tables ingeniously made of plastic containers which evidently would later give off light. The beer/food stall was augmented by a separate grilling station. José explained the communal brewery had quite an arsenal of craftsman to assemble such an elaborate venue without the usual costs. The only problem was the Weißwürst wasn’t ready so we chipped in with a few decorations. Though very tastefully done up with hops and autumnal plants, I was a little surprised by the blue and white napkins used as they mimicked the Bavarian flag. This would ruffle the feathers of the most hard core Franconians but this fun lot were throwing an Oktoberfest and kicking it off with a traditional Munich breakfast so I wasn’t about to question it. I perused the printed menu to check out what I might eat in addition to what we were awaiting.
Weißwürstfrühstück kicks things off & tasteful decorations
Their Weißbier came out first and we couldn’t wait any longer. This is not a specialty style in Franconia but it is gaining popularity and while many are subpar, this one was drier than most and quite good. It went down so easily, we needed a second for our white sausages once they were on offer. Getting an early start has its advantages but I knew I’d need more sustenance to stay the course with two more beers on tap. I’d noticed Kochkäse on the menu and was intrigued by a Franconian food I’d not heard of. José said it was quite common in the area and I later read up on its being “invented” to lengthen the shelf-life of cheese that was about to spoil by cooking it. Served optionally with a sprinkling of caraway seeds, it’s a bit related to fondue and can have a similar consistency. Read all you want, it went really well with their Kellerbier. Note that everything at this festival was homemade, even the bread.
Kochkäse was a new find & the tight trio
There was a tight little trio playing traditional music and while not something I’m generally over-enthused about, these guys were good and hearing them at close quarters as contrasted to in the cavernous Wiesn tents in Munich was actually quite pleasant. The event was blessed with incredible weather; sunny and just warm enough. People started to pile in and while not super crowded during the day, the lunch hour rush meant their renowned Sauerbraten was sold out before José’s family arrived so we had to settle for a Steaksemmel. This was fine with me after having already eaten two items. I opted to have their Vollbier first and it was another winner.
a really nice small village festival atmosphere
That I’d made a mistake in having the beer first was apparent when I tackled the growing grilling station line. Since Germans tend to eat at set times, those manning it were a little overwhelmed by the lunch hour rush. I got to chat with Alex’s Mom in the queue and José rescued me with a Festbier when he noticed I was gone a lot longer than planned. That made the rest of my wait a lot more pleasant and I was soon seated with both. Disappointed by missing out on her chosen lunch option, friend Alex decided cake was the better option. She came down with what we in the States call German Chocolate Cake. Schwarzwalder Kuchen is not typical in this area but this one was a beauty. She explained she’d taken the last two pieces and though envious, I went up and found something to my liking anyway. After all, cake and beer is an underrated pairing.
let them eat cake
Thanks to the Köslauer Rennweg Brauer for throwing such an amazing event. Thanks also to José for introducing me to this area of the Lower Franconian brewing scene. Thanks to Alex for the lift to Köslau and back to Ebelsbach. It sure would have been a long hike out! Thanks to their family for making me feel so welcome and part of their gathering. While the Wiesn in Munich is something I’ll likely go to every year due to my living here, it’s places and events like this that are the heartbeat of Franconia. It’s not The Big Show but it’s small town friendly and more real. I’m already looking forward to the next one.