What’s in a name? A lot when it’s Dittmar

The question was innocent enough, a server asking a customer where they are from isn’t untypical. Though she had to know we weren’t German, the answer was obviously not what she expected. The astonished look on her face when we told her that all three of us had come from the US was perhaps the most telling sign of the admittedly unusual day. All she could do was ask in further disbelief why we’d come to Kalternnordheim of all places. When we told her it was for the local Rhöner Bier, it did little to satisfy her curiosity. After all, just on the other side of hedge dissecting the otherwise treeless Biergarten was a table full of locals rather robustly celebrating the last day of the what we would find out later is the biggest Volksfest in the area, drinking…..Warsteiner.

 a guy named Dittmar out front

My guess is you haven’t heard of Rhönbrauerei Dittmar, right? Don’t feel bad, I hadn’t either prior to Good Friday, 2022. On a mission to some Rhön breweries on the other side of the border, in the far reaches of Lower Franconia, I stumbled across a few bottles and bought them even though they were from Thüringen, hoping they would still be part of the former Franconian Imperial Circle.

 stumbling across Rhönbrauerei Dittmar

Well, they not only turned out to be Franconian, they were really good too. I looked at getting there without a car and immediately turned it into a potential following year Good Friday car trip. I also posted some of the gorgeous looking beers on Instagram. Wouldn’t you know it, a guy named Dittmar made some comments. I figured he was German but he turned out to be a brewer from the Seattle area and owner of Airways Brewing. He said he’d be coming back to Franconia that spring and that he had to go to his namesake brewery. Turns out a family member traced them back to not all that far from Kaltennordheim no less. I’ll have to admit, I filed it away as a highly unlikely Plan B and kept looking at my wife driving up on Good Friday but no Thuringian Easter excursion ensued. Alternative plans often turn out to be the best kind. As things got closer, I tried to arrange a brewery tour for the visiting Washingtonians, using the Dittmar name dropping card to no avail. Wrong day of the week, not enough people but my contact said to come on in and we could try beers onsite. She’d even steer me to some local restaurants with their beers on tap once there. This was looking good.

the  Hof Biergarten

We were warmly welcomed though as it turned out my contact was on vacation and getting information on where to eat in town drew blanks, perhaps because it was a Tuesday. One of the guys who worked in the actual brewery recognized my Beerwanderers shirt and stopped in to say hi. More usefully, he pointed out that there was a festival in town and we could not only drink their beer on tap there but also find something to eat. We got some beer to go but drank one onsite in their rustic little Hof  “Biergarten” for good measure. We couldn’t come all the way to the Dittmar brewery without our Dittmar getting his beer.

a short stroll showed a town that had seen better days

My original chosen restaurant Zum Löwen was perhaps unsurprisingly closed. I’d written them about possibly staying there on my thwarted Easter trip, along with asking for their pub opening hours and had never heard back. The sign in the window confirmed its evident permanent closure but added they were still open as a bed and breakfast. We made our way over to the town festival to again find it quite empty. We did, however, secure a Rhöner Pils on tap.

what turned out to be a quiet last day at the Heiratsmarkt

While the beer itself was easy enough to find, food was another matter. These types of festivals are never a culinary showcase but the ubiquitous Steaksemmel is always on display. Here we were in Thüringen and we couldn’t even unearth a Thüringer Bratwurst, something they are renowned for all over Germany. On our walkabout, we saw two more closed restaurants and more surprisingly empty beer tents. Aside from finally getting to try the admittedly tasty Rhöner Pils on tap, this was turning out to be a lackluster Volksfest.

what happened to the festival goers?

We saw a restaurant on Google Maps which appeared to have Rhöner beer but at this point, eating had become more the priority anyway. Any place that was open would suffice. Zur Einkehr was indeed open and though there was a party going on out back, we went inside with the darkening sky threatening. Our host said we’d have to sit out back or in the right hand dining area. I saw “Für Raucher” on the door and on entering, it was readily apparent that people had been smoking in there quite recently. Needless to say, we headed out back and figured a little rain wouldn’t be as dangerous or unpleasant. The server was quite busy with a large table of locals but looked over signalling she’d seen us. More disturbingly, she was carrying nothing but Warsteiner. While there’s nothing particularly wrong with this mass-produced German Pils, you don’t see it much in Franconia and I’d been under the impression that this bit of Thüringen still clung to its historical and cultural past. With a great brewery right in town, why resort to something that you could find anywhere.

an open Zur Einkehr

Our server soon arrived to take our drink order and I asked what was on tap. Despite being in the weeds, she explained the local Pils and Warteiner. We opted for the former. She brought out an amber beer that in no way looked like the Pils we’d just had at the Heiratsmarkt and to be honest like no German Pils I’d ever seen. Worse yet, it tasted pretty bad. When she brought out our food, I asked to confirm what beer it was, suggesting that it was perhaps the Rhöner Landbier. This is the kind of thing that in Germany could easily turn into being chastised in a superior tone but she good-naturedly said she’d ask inside. We dug into our food and my Roulade was so good, I forgot not only about the awful beer I was drinking with it but also about why I’d even come to Kalternnordheim in the first place. When she returned, she apologized and said it was indeed the Landbier. The only Pils they had was the Warsteiner. In fact, there was nothing else on tap so I asked if they had the Dunkel in a bottle. Her patience was probably wearing thin by this foreigner who obviously knew more about the local beer than she did. She nonetheless returned smiling with a bottle, adding that it was called Urtyp. I was going to say Naturlich but didn’t want to push it. It was excellent.

When we paid up, she explained that Zum Löwen was indeed permanently closed as a restaurant but that you could stay overnight. She added that she thought the Schlosscafé was also likely closed for good. This is a restaurant right in the castle, what I imagine is the main tourist attraction in town, so that didn’t sound promising. She confirmed Zum Hirsch in town was open but closed on Tuesdays during the day. She wasn’t a beer sommelier but she sure knew everything about the restaurant scene in Kaltennordheim. We tipped her well and said we’d hope to see her again one day. She shook her head as we left. I’m not sure if we’d over tipped her or she just thought we were crazy.

Epilogue: While researching Kalternnordheim and the Heiratsmarkt for this piece, I found out that the festival we’d found unusually quiet has been held annually since 1653 and is the largest in the lower Thüringen Rhön. It always starts the Friday of Pfingsten (Whit Sunday) weekend and runs full force through the Monday holiday. It is open on Tuesday in a reduced form as a Family Day for the kids to enjoy the rides sans the crowds and beer tents. Note that our visit was indeed on a Tuesday.

What’s in a name? Well, if this brewery hadn’t been called Dittmar, I would have never heard from an American brewer with the same name. I may have managed to get there by some other means but I doubt it would have been as quickly or nearly as much fun as with him and his buddy Rich, who graciously drove us back to Bamberg. While it wasn’t exactly what we’d had in mind, the actual visit to the brewery was successful and the stroll around town enlightening to our Dittmar, who saw his name on a few buildings. He’s even planning on bringing his wife one day. I’m shaking my head. I’m not sure if he’s crazy or his wife is.

If you go, try to time it for the weekend when more things are open. If you like festivals, go the Whit Sunday weekend. Note: don’t go on Tuesday.

Make sure Zur Hirsch is open. Contact details on my Kaltennordheim page. This is probably the best place to sample Rhöner Pils on tap and as a bonus their tap list includes Kloster Kreuzberg Klosterbier.

You might want to consider staying at Hotel Zum Löwen if you can get in touch with the owners. From photos on their website, the interior of the old pub looks like something to see even if no longer open.

Zur Einkehr remains a great place for Roulade and maybe the beer will be in better form for you. Please let me know if it is. I’m not one to malign small businesses struggling to make it and this town needs all the restaurants it can get.  Say hello from the three American guys who were crazy enough to visit Kaltennordheim. She’ll probably think you are too.

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 the Franconian Imperial Circle. Please consider buying me a beer 🍺!

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2 thoughts on “What’s in a name? A lot when it’s Dittmar

  1. Glad to see that The Beer Wanderer’s tour for the Northwesterners, while it had challenges, was ultimately successful. A little rain doesn’t deter us….I’ll be sure to visit Airways Brewing next time I’m in Seattle.

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