Friday, 31 December 2010
Return to Bamberg - Day One
I returned early this morning from Bamberg, where I spent four extremely pleasant, but very cold days enjoying the beery delights of this beautiful Franconian city. In contrast to our visit earlier in the year, where we enjoyed temperatures in the mid-30's, the mercury this time was well below freezing and there was a covering of snow, at least a foot deep. Still Germany is a country used to cold winters, and everything was functioning as normal. My inbound flight was delayed slightly by around 40 minutes, but that was all, and although it was snowing heavily when the plane touched down at Nuernberg Airport, the runway was clear as, I observed, were the pavements when I later arrived in Bamberg.
After checking into my hotel, and donning some extra layers of clothing, I walked the short distance into the Altstadt, or old town. My first port of call was Ambraeusianum, a brew pub situated just a few doors along from the famous Schlenkerla tavern. Back in July my son and I sat outside, but one would have needed to be an Eskimo to survive the kinds of low temperatures the city was experiencing this time around!
Ambraeusianum is pleasantly decorated with tiled floors and lots of light-coloured wood-work. Like all of the city's pubs it was looking suitably festive, as befitted the time of year. I ordered a tall mug of the pub's house-brewed Helles, which I remembered from the previous visit as being particularly enjoyable. Some beer writers have, unkindly in my view, described it as disappointing and lacking in balance, but I found it to have a good, full-bodied, underlying maltiness.
Even so, one beer was enough before moving on the short distance to Schlenkerla, but not before a quick reconnaissance along Untere Sandstrasse where I wanted to check out a few other drinking establishments for later on. As it turned out, none of these places opened until the evening, so not wishing to stay out in the cold any longer I headed back to Bamberg's most famous pub.
I should add that for guidance, as well as jolly good read, I had brought along a copy of John Connen's excellent Guide to Bamberg & Franconia. Now in its second edition, the guide has been completely revised and updated, with lots of colour photo's, as well as vital information about what can rightly be described as "Germany's Brewing Heartland".
Schenkerla was packed, as it seemed to be on every day of my trip, but I managed to find a seat, and settled down to enjoy a glass of the famous, almost coal-black, Rauchbier. It was every bit as good as I remembered, and I followed it with a glass of the stronger, seasonal Ur Bock. At 6.5% this is like a stronger version of the brewery's normal strength beer, but is sufficiently well-hopped to balance the additional body supplied by the malt. At 500ml a time though, it is definitely not a session beer so with this thought in mind, and the fact I was feeling peckish, I headed across the road to the Alt-Ringlein.
This former brew-pub is now a slightly up-market hotel, but its downstairs rooms still retain their traditional ambiance. I also remembered it as serving some extremely good roast pork! Unlike its neighbour across the road, Alt-Ringlein wasn't full to bursting point and I had no trouble in getting a table to myself. I ordered a glass of Spezial Lagerbier which although nowhere near as smoky as Schlenkerla's version, still has a pleasant, subtle smokiness lurking in the background. I decided to leave the Schweinebraten (roast pork) for another time, ordering instead a Schnitzel and chips. Once the Spezial was finished, I decided to move onto one of the hotel's other beers; this time Ungespundetes from Mahrs Braeu.
Dark amber in colour, with sufficient maltiness to match, Ungespundetes was a good beer to finish on. It had been a long day and I had been up since the early hours for the drive to the airport. I settled my account and wandered the relatively short distance, through the snow-covered streets, back to my hotel and a welcome night's sleep.