The Main Thing about Unterfranken

The Main River’s a funny thing. It’s simultaneously the longest tributary of the more famous Rhine and the longest river contained in Germany. Originating just west of Kulmbach at the confluence of the White Main and Red Main rivers, it meanders widely through Franconia before making its way to central Germany and discharging into the Rhine 325 miles later. As a long standing navigable river not far from Bamberg on the Regnitz, it should come as no surprise the number of breweries along its course.

the Main meanders

While exploring more deeply into Lower Franconia this summer, I noticed the three targeted breweries were in tourist towns on the Main. When researching the river to tie them together, I couldn’t help looking at the course of this truly winding waterway and since I looked at it on Google Maps, I also noticed all of the breweries on it that I’d been to without having paid much attention. While those in Upper Franconia like Wagner in Kemmern and Reblitz in Nedensdorf are outside the realm of this post, there were more than a handful that were in fact squarely in Lower Franconia. The first was probably Göller in Zeil am Main. Zur Alten Freyung has become a favorite lunch stop for quite a few years now and the Alder-Bräu in Stettfeld goes back to researching Beer Hiking Bavaria. Both are included in the 50 beer hikes featured therein.

some old Lower Franconian friends on the Main

To be quite honest, I hadn’t paid much attention to their riverside location but I did notice it more plainly on a road trip to Romantic Road marvel Miltenberg with a stop in Würzburg. This was likely because the beer wasn’t really the focus due to the breweries in the area being either contract-brewed (former Kalt-Loch Bräu), taken over by conglomerates (Würzburger Hofbräu) or just not all that great (Faust). It was a special occasion with my Dad so a rental car was in order and as pretty as it all was, I was fairly certain a return wasn’t in the cards.

a road trip to a beery mirage

The impetus of the latest foray into Lower Franconia was Martinsbräu. At one point, you’ve kind of run out of first tier breweries to visit and you start scanning the map to see what’s out there. I also look for places I can get to by public transportation. My wife’s a great sport and she’s happy to drive if a trip is enticing enough but I try to save those favors for when I need them. Marktheidenfeld was easy enough to get to, even from Munich but it was a long trip. It was five hours with a couple of changes so needless to say, it was an overnight trip. Part of what made the Martinsbräu Brästüble the top choice was quite simply, it was open during the week at lunch, something increasingly not easy to find. Even with an early start from home, I arrived just in time for their extensive Mittagstisch, and a sumptuous one it was. All concerns about this not being truly Franconia were easily allayed by one of the best Schäuferla ever. Dunkles Landbier on tap was a bonus.

round one was a success

After checking into my hotel, I resisted not only taking a food coma-induced nap but also not murdering the owner of the hotel, who had tried the old “we’re overbooked, we’ll put you in a neighboring village” routine to no avail. She quickly sussed out that this Philly boy wasn’t going to be shuffled off to Buffalo or any other place other than the home of Martinsbräu. Strutting like a rooster, I took a stroll down to the river. Yup, that river. It was a pleasant waterfront area with nice reclining benches but of course the real reason I’d made my way down was to check out the Martinsbräu Biergarten. It wasn’t really Biergartenwetter but I couldn’t take the chance of it having been open without my checking. It wasn’t actually raining and it wasn’t cold. It was closed but due to a festival that weekend.  It looked rather nice and I made a mental note to return one day.

Marktheidenfeld in spring was lovely

Though the weather was less than ideal, I made my way to a newer brewery up the river. I knew it was going to be closed but I had some extra calories to burn off and time to kill. The Felsenkeller zum neuen Brauhaus 1816 was another nice looking lush Biergarten and I now had two reasons to return. Well, I still had the original reason and I decided to just go there and have a pre-dinner Pils. Before I knew it, it was Spargelzeit and I was in the midst of another great meal.

round two was somewhat lighter

The next morning, it would have been prudent, not to mention easier, to retrace my steps from the previous day. I’d already stocked up on beer from the local beer store but there was a direct bus to Wertheim and then one from there back to Würzburg so it was hard to argue with stopping in to sample the Brauerei Spessart beers, especially since I was only arguing with myself.

 a worthwhile pit stop in Wertheim

Wertheim proved even prettier than Marktheidenfeld and I later learned that it’s become part of the extended Romantic Road. The weather was pretty dismal but I managed to get a few shots of the castle and brewery before the drizzle set in. Oddly, the brewery was across the river in Kreuzwertheim, which is in the Bavarian part of Franconia. Yup, the Main River cuts the dissects the two states here.  As it turned out, this wasn’t problematic as the brewery tap across from the brewery had closed some years ago. The unofficial one is a Greek restaurant on this side and to be honest, it was doubtful I could have taken a better picture than the one from this vantage point. Okay, some sun and blue skies would have been appreciated.

a short stroll in the drizzle

Though I knew Zorbas Restaurant wasn’t likely to be open before 11:00, it was on the way so I walked by to see if there was anyone who would take pity on a wet backpacker. I didn’t have time to get to a bridge to cross the Main River as both were at either far end of town but I saw another one just behind the restaurant so walked across that little pedestrian bridge. I noticed on the map it was the Tauber of Rothenburg fame. I may have been getting wet but it was obvious I’d missed out on the river section of grade school geography and there’s nothing like live learning. While I hadn’t prepared properly for the river quiz, I had read about a great pretzel bakery on the main square. My priorities are obvious but I was skeptical. It looked awfully touristy but it was a place for a hot tea and though the pretzel looked a bit limp, it was excellent and very old school with a firm taste of lye. Mission accomplished, I made my way over to Taube Hotel/Zorbas Restaurant for lunch.

Spessart beers well-poured & tasty calamari

I was right there for opening and I don’t think my server was expecting anyone before noon, let alone anyone planning on drinking every beer they had on tap. I didn’t have a lot of time so ordered my food and second beer when she brought my Weizen out. She was taking time pouring the beers as evidenced by the gorgeous looking beer she presented. Both Gold Specht and Spessart Räuberchen Dunkel were even better looking and though I’d initially been disappointed about the brewery tap being replaced with a Greek restaurant, I was happy for the change-up after two big German meals the previous day. The bartender took great pride in her presentation as well.  I was obviously sitting inside but they had a nice patio on the Tauber and there were lush green hills in every direction. I could see returning here for a few days to do some hiking but at that moment, the hike was a brisk walk to the bus stop. About five hours later, I was in Munich and wondering how to tie this all together.

a great meal at Zum Roth in Schweinfurt

A few weeks later, I’d spotted another town up river from Marktheidenfeld but Lohr am Main was just that bit further and I had become quite busy with tours. Though I was in Bamberg a lot, my schedule only allowed for somewhat closer excursions so I made my way out to Schweinfurt to check out the newly renovated Zum Roth. Though the town was again on the Main, it was a little underwhelming in comparison to my two recent encounters. That said, the Roth Bier brewery tap was a pleasant surprise: excellently poured and presented beers and a hell of a meal in a cozy dark wood pub. I’m sure if they were open for lunch, I’d have already been back but it’s another one of those evening only joints.

nicer than expected Lohr am Main

With a lot of Bamberg area Saturday tours, I had a few open Fridays and I finally made my way up to the Keiler Brauhaus. I’d hesitated a bit as it was uncertain whether it was actually a brewery and what was known wasn’t great; they are owned by Kulmbacher. I’d heard good things about the food and on investigating, it appeared that at least some of the tap beer served is brewed onsite. The town was another Main River charmer, though to be honest, I didn’t have time to saunter over to the river. What I did finally get was a gorgeous day; Keiler was off to a good start. That and they were also very responsive when messaging, something more breweries need to think about as they try to stay afloat in difficult times. It was warm, I was thirsty and that first Weizen went down very easily.

 better than expected: Keiler Brauhaus

The meal was really super and though I have a fair appetite and arrived hungry, I could not finish it. While the beers weren’t world-beaters, they were uniformly good. The in-house Kellerbier was indeed tasty. It would have been easy to hang out for another one but it was just a patio and I had a half-baked plan to get to a real Biergarten. Instead of heading back to the train station and Würzburg, I went for a bus that would bring me to Marktheidenfeld.

completing the circle at the Martinsbräu Biergarten

This time the Martinsbräu Biergarten was very much open. Yes, it was a crazy thing to do with a tour early the next morning but I knew the summer was coming to a close. Not only would chances to return that season be dwindling but it was unlikely I’d ever be so easily within reach. I only stayed for a couple and was on my bus before it got dark. I’d found out that not only are there some pretty good places on this stretch of the Main but that they were like the river itself, very much navigable even without a boat.

Epilogue: The next morning I met seven ex-Ruby players from the Netherlands for a Brewing Heartlands Tour. It was a good thing I was in practice. We hiked about 12 miles to five breweries and one Bierkeller. Needless to say, we drank a lot of beer. I think they were pretty impressed with how the little old guy kept up with them. I was pretty surprised too since I was 25 years older than the oldest member. When it came to our size difference, let’s just say I was glad they hadn’t brought their ball.

the morning after

The list of breweries which Beerwanderers has visited is growing, check out out where the brews are!

I know I have a tough job but someone has to do it. It does cost money visiting the various breweries, especially as Beerwanderers goes further into Lower Franconia. Please consider buying me a beer 🍺!

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

Looking for someone to take you there? How about me?

2 thoughts on “The Main Thing about Unterfranken

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.